Prosecutor Joseph Deters, speaking bluntly at a news conference to announce the charges, called the July 19 death of Samuel Dubose, 43, "senseless" and totally unnecessary. He said Ray Tensing, the white officer who shot Dubose in the head, never should have been a police officer.
The incident was the latest in a series of fatal police confrontations across the United States that have raised questions about police use of force against minorities.
City officials braced for possible unrest after the announcement of the grand jury's decision and the University of Cincinnati shut down in case of protests. The university said it will review its policing strategy in the wake of the shooting.
Deters said Tensing, 25, had purposely shot Dubose, who was not resisting after he was pulled over for not having a front license plate on his car.
"I've been doing this for 30 years," Deters told reporters after meeting with Dubose's family. "This is the most asinine act I've ever seen a police officer make, totally unwarranted."
Police said Tensing, who also was charged with voluntary manslaughter, surrendered at about 2 p.m. EDT. He will be arraigned at 10 a.m. EDT on Thursday in the Hamilton County Court of Common Pleas and could face the possibility of life in prison if convicted.
Tensing's attorney, Stew Mathews, told the Fox 19 television station in Cincinnati that his client was being "thrown under the bus" by the prosecutor and the school. Tensing was fired by the university police on Wednesday and school officials said they were talking with the Dubose family about providing educational support for Dubose's children.
A body camera video Deters played for reporters showed Tensing running after the slowly rolling car after the stop. Deters said Tensing was not dragged by the car, as the officer had reported. Asked about a second police officer who supported Tensing's report of the incident, Deters said his office was investigating that.
Mathews said there is a second video that will show more of the incident, according to Fox 19.
Deters also said Tensing failed to issue simple, nonviolent commands.
"He wasn't dealing with someone who was wanted for murder," Deters said. "He was dealing with someone who didn't have a front license plate. This is, in the vernacular, a pretty chicken crap stop."
Cincinnati was convulsed with riots in 2001 after police shot an unarmed 19-year-old black man who was wanted for traffic violations. The Cincinnati police went through extensive reform after that incident and an independent agency was set up to handle complaints against the police.
On Wednesday, Deters said the university should not have its own police force and that the city police, who he said were better trained, should take over campus security. Cincinnati Mayor John Cranley said in a subsequent news conference that there will be an independent review of the University of Cincinnati police department.
The incident was the latest in a string of deaths of black men at the hands of police in the past year, including Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, Eric Garner in New York City, Freddie Gray in Baltimore and Walter Scott in North Charleston, South Carolina. Prosecutors brought charges against officers in Baltimore and North Charleston.
On Wednesday, Audrey Dubose, the victim's mother, praised the indictment.
"I'm so thankful that everything was uncovered," she told reporters. "I thought it was going to be covered up."
She said she could forgive Tensing for her son's death.
The family saw the body camera video on Wednesday for the first time and met with Cranley. The family urged calm in the community, according to Cranley spokesman Kevin Osborne.
Dubose's family has hired attorney Mark O'Mara, who represented George Zimmerman, the Florida man who was acquitted in the 2012 shooting death of black teenager Trayvon Martin.