Experts: Silence after Central Texas police shooting risks mistrust

The incident occurred on Dec. 2 in the area of a CEFCO store and a Tractor Supply store. (Photo by Megan Vanselow)
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TEMPLE, Texas (KWTX) The Temple Police Department’s extended silence about the officer-involved shooting that left a 28-year-old man dead runs contrary to best practices and creates fertile ground for public mistrust, experts told The Associated Press.

Michael Dean, 28, was shot to death at around 8:15 p.m. on Dec. 2 in the area of Southeast H K Dodgen Loop and Little River Road on the south side of the city.

The officer who shot him, Carmen DeCruz remains on administrative leave.

The city attorney's office informing News 10 in a letter this week to the Attorney General, it plans to withhold DeCruz's photo, to keep DeCruz safe.

The letter requests a ruling from the Attorney General following the public information request from KWTX, seeking the photo.

Assistant City Attorney Charla Thomas saying, "...release of the photo would endanger the life or physical safety of the officer as an incident involving {DeCruz} has garnered significant negative public and media attention."

The letter also includes social media commentary as examples in an exhibit for the Attorney General to view, but was not made available for KWTX to see.

More than two weeks after the shooting, few details have been provided to the public and Dean’s family about the circumstances.

Former New York City Police Department commander Stephen Nasta told AP this "appears to be a long period without giving more details of that case.”

Dean was a Temple High School graduate who attended Temple College where he was pursuing a business degree.

Temple police have remained tight-lipped about the circumstances surrounding the shooting, referring questions to the Texas Rangers, who are investigating.

Members of Dean’s family continue to demand answers about the deadly shooting and the attorney who represents them, Lee Merritt of Houston, says Dean was unarmed and was shot in the head.

“We had an individual who was shot one time in the head, that doesn’t imply a scuffle that implies an execution. I don’t want to speculate…this family doesn’t want to speculate," Merritt said.

Temple Mayor Tim Davis addressed the situation in a statement he read at the beginning of a city council meeting Thursday.

We as a council want everyone to know that the decisions made so far have been in the pursuit of one overarching goal: ensuring the investigation remained impartial and unbiased,” he said.

“It has been suggested this situation would have been handled differently if the victim was my son or another white member of the community. I can tell you, the system we have in place would not allow that to happen. All are treated equally in our pursuit of the truth.

“Many of our councilmembers are mothers and fathers, grandmothers and grandfathers,” he said.

“We know the loss of Michael is something from which the Dean family will never fully recover. The Deans have lost a son and a brother. His children have lost their father. They must go on without their loved one,” he said.

“As the Temple community, it is our responsibility to reach out to love them and support them in any way we can. We hope you will lift them up daily.”

There is also a human toll on our police department as well as the officer involved. These men and women of all races and ethnicities work together to ensure the safety and security of our community. They have continued to uphold the integrity of the department while facing intense public scrutiny,” he said.

We hope there can be a true community conversation as we move forward together after this tragedy.”

City Manager Brynn Myers also released a statement Thursday night 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 have many facts to disclose," she said.

"Disclosure of incomplete information often leads to speculation which can result in inaccurate conclusions among the public, including potential jurors. This can unfairly skew the public’s perception of the person who died or the officer who was involved. The public interest is best served when facts lead the way. That is why this case was turned over to an independent investigating agency in order to determine those facts," she said.

Texas Department of Public Safety spokesman Sgt. Bryan Washko has said Temple police aren't disclosing information about the investigation not at the request of the Rangers, but at their own discretion.

But Myers said the city will continue to refer queries to the state investigators.

"Based on this statement, and at my request, the Temple Police Department spoke to the Texas Rangers today and clarified the original direction given regarding the release of information," Myers said.

"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."