TEMPLE, Texas (KWTX) The family of Michael Dean, 28, of Temple who was killed when an officer’s gun discharged following an attempted traffic stop that led to a pursuit on Dec. 2, 2019, met with Bell County District Attorney Henry Garza Tuesday, a day after Temple Officer Carmen DeCruz, 52, was charged with manslaughter in Dean’s death.
Temple Officer Carmen DeCruz, 52, (left) is charged with manslaughter in the shooting death of Michael Dean, 28. (Jail photo/family photo)
Attorney Lee Merritt, who represents the family, said the details in the arrest warrant affidavit are sufficient to support a murder charge against the officer, who will remain on administrative leave until he’s indicted.
Manslaughter is a second-degree felony that carries a sentence of two to 20 years in state prison and/or a fine of no more than $10,000 while murder is a first-degree felony that carries a sentence of five to 99 years or life and a fine of no more than $10,000.
Although he disagrees with the charge, Merritt said he’ll respect the decision of the district attorney who, he says, has more information about the shooting, has seen the video evidence and has spoken directly with DeCruz, who remained in the Bell County Jail Tuesday in lieu of $500,000 bond.
DeCruz was arrested Monday.
“The Texas Rangers investigation developed facts and evidence which support the elements of manslaughter,” Garza said in press release Monday.
DeCruz attempted to pull Dean over for speeding on Dec. 2, but Dean did not immediately stop and the officer gave chase, an arrest warrant affidavit released Monday says.
Dean stopped at the intersection of Little River Road and Loop 363, DeCruz pulled around the vehicle to block it in and got out of his patrol unit, the affidavit says.
Video from the officer’s body camera showed that DeCruz approached Dean’s vehicle with his handgun drawn, the affidavit says.
He ordered Dean to turn off the vehicle and hand him the keys.
“Officer DeCruz had the handgun pointed at Dean with his finger on the trigger,” the affidavit says.
“Officer DeCruz is seen reaching into Dean’s vehicle in an attempt to gain control of the keys to the vehicle with his left hand while holding his duty issued firearm, a handgun, in his right hand,” the affidavit said.
As Decruz pulled on the keys with his left, hand, the affidavit says, “his right hand also pulls backwards causing the handgun to fire striking Michael Dean in the head.”
Speaking for Dean's family, attorney Lee Merritt issued a brief statement Monday afternoon in which he said, "The Dean family finds this charge wholly inappropriate given DeCruz intended to cause death when he shot Dean in the head.”
"Michael Dean was shot in his temple through a closed door
seconds after being pulled over for a minor traffic violation," Merritt said.
"It is clear that Carmen DeCruz intended to cause serious bodily harm when he shot Michael Dean in the face without justification. We are demanding that the appropriate charges be pursued."
The Temple Police Department has not yet received the results of the Texas Rangers investigation and deferred questions about the case to the Bell County District Attorney’s Office.
Interim police Chief Jim Tobin expressed condolences and regrets to Dean’s family.
“This has been a difficult time for the Dean family and the community,” he said.
“I assured the Dean family from the start that there would be an independent investigation by the Texas Rangers without any influence by our agency, and that has occurred.”
Tobin said an internal investigation of the shooting should be completed by the end of February.
He has also requested an after-action review of the department’s response to the deadly shooting.
“After-action reviews are commonly performed after critical incidents," Tobin said.
"It is the department's goal to perform at a high standard, and to continue to improve our training, safety and service to the community."
A brief police report filed with the Texas Attorney General’s Office says that during the altercation in the 3200 block of Little River Road, “DeCruz’s service weapon discharged, striking Michael Dean.”
“Officer DeCruz initiated life-saving measures to no avail.”
Dean died of a gunshot wound to the head.
The most serious charge Dean would have faced was evading arrest, the report says.
In video obtained by KWTX following a request for video the night Dean was killed, DeCruz is recorded patrolling the area where he would eventually try to stop Dean.
The near four-minute video shows DeCruz pulling into an apartment complex, circling around and then making a left turn when exiting the parking lot.
KWTX has requested video of the actual incident but the city is not releasing "in an effort to protect witnesses that can be seen in the footage."
DeCruz was “running radar” in the area of Blackland Road in Temple when he spotted the gray PT Cruiser Dean was driving speeding and attempted to pull Dean over, the report says.
Dean, the report says, “refused to stop for the officer and a short pursuit ensued.”
A brief report filed with the Texas Attorney General’s Office in late December confirmed Dean was unarmed.
The Peace Officer Involved Injuries or Death Report submitted by Temple Police Investigations Sgt. Robert Mallett says Dean “Did not carry, exhibit or use a deadly weapon” and says the shooting occurred as a result of a “Traffic Stop/Evading.”
The routine report is remarkable only because few details about the shooting have been released.
Temple officials were criticized for their reticence to discuss the incident.
Temple City Manager Brynn Myers released a statement on Dec. 19 in which she said the investigation by the Texas Rangers could take weeks or months before the case is presented to the Bell County District Attorney's Office.
"Because the Temple Police Department is not conducting the investigation, they do not investigating agency in order to determine those facts," she said.
Texas Department of Public Safety spokesman Sgt. Bryan Washko has said, however, that Temple police aren't disclosing information about the investigation not at the request of the Rangers, but at their own discretion.
But Myers said in the statement the city will continue to refer queries to the state investigators.
"While the Texas Rangers did not explicitly prohibit the city from releasing facts related to the case, it was clear they preferred we follow standard procedures by not releasing information related to an investigation being conducted by an outside agency. Therefore, we will continue to defer to the Texas Rangers as the investigating agency."