The families of “3 black fathers murdered by police this week,” retained the services of civil rights attorney Lee Merritt.
Michael Dean, 28, who was also a family man with three children, was shot in the head by Temple Texas police during a traffic stop near Southeast HK Dodgen Loop and Little River Road. He was killed on Dec. 2, according to the Associated Press.
Cameron Lamb was a 26-year-old man and a father of three, who had recently started a business working on cars, KCTV5 reports. On Dec. 3, he was shot by police while he was at his Kansas City home in his car in the backyard.
#MichaelDean was shot once in the head after making a rolling stop at stop sign. He was unarmed. Police have not reported anything about a struggle, or sudden movement or any explanation whatsoever for his murder. The family demands to see body/dash cam footage. Presser today 3PM pic.twitter.com/y7Do1YsYfu— S. Lee Merritt, Esq. (@MeritLaw) December 6, 2019
And then, on Dec. 5, Demetrius Williams, a 31-year-old father of five, according to The Marshall News, “was shot while SWAT agents were serving a narcotics search warrant at a Marshall (Texas) residence.”
In response to the deaths of Cameron Lamb from Kansas City, Missouri; Michael Dean from Temple, Texas; and Demetrius Williams from Marshall, Texas, Merritt posted on Twitter , “The U.S. policing culture of brutality & incarceration is a GENOCIDE. This is a human rights struggle.”
I’ve been hired by 3 black fathers murdered by police this week. #CameronLamb (Kansas City, MO 12/2); #MichaelDean (Temple, TX 12/3); #DemetriusWilliams (Marshall, TX 12/5).— S. Lee Merritt, Esq. (@MeritLaw) December 9, 2019
The U.S. policing culture of brutality & incarceration is a GENOCIDE. This is a human rights struggle. pic.twitter.com/y36Nk32yd0
In a phone interview, Merritt spoke to BET about the Lamb, Dean, and Williams cases and police brutality.
“We’re talking about great fathers to 11 different children, who are now all left fatherless,” Merritt told BET.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
BET: Why have you been retained by the families of these men?
MERRITT: Because there’s very limited information for each of these cases. (Law enforcement) is providing little to no information instead of doing what you all have done, which is to call them out on it and to say that the story is that there have been three Black men killed with no real narrative provided for any of them.
BET: Do you expect charges to be filed against the officers in these cases?
MERRITT: I expect charges in all three cases. It would be unheard because one percent out of 99 percent of these cases actually get indicted across the country. But the reason I got involved with these three cases is that I think they are cases where the police force was completely unjustified.
I believe we will see the offending officers arrested in all three cases. Keep pushing. https://t.co/sk9U8m1xga— S. Lee Merritt, Esq. (@MeritLaw) December 10, 2019
BET: What is the Kansas City DA’s office saying about the Cameron Lamb case?
MERRITT: When I talked to the District Attorney, we agreed that the law enforcement officers had no right to enter Mr. Lamb’s property. There wasn’t an ongoing search. (The plain-clothed officers) presence there was completely unconstitutional. Since we agreed there, we also agreed how Mr. Lamb was well within his rights to draw a firearm on plain-clothed, unmarked men coming to his place of residence and his business. So, we agreed there.
Note: Kansas City Police Department spokesman, Capt. Tim Hernandez told BET on Thursday (Dec. 12), “They were in plain clothes, but they had police vests on and clearly marked police markings on their vests. Normally plain-clothed would be detectives or someone with a tie, shirt, jeans and sweatshirt. They actually had on police vests with police gear on it, with police markings on it so, it’s not just your traditional plain clothes with no markings on it.”
My office has been formally retained to represent the family of #CameronLamb who was killed by KCPD Tuesday December 3, 2019 as he was repairing cars in his own backyard. He was deeply loved and his murder represents an irreplaceable loss for this family. They demand justice. pic.twitter.com/qQM3NwTJUa— S. Lee Merritt, Esq. (@MeritLaw) December 9, 2019
The only thing that we’re stuck on whether or not to indict these officers, is whether -- because Mr. Lamb did draw a weapon -- they could claim self-defense. Now, self-defense laws in Missouri have built in a clause that says you can’t unveil yourself with those laws if you created the danger, which you’re defending yourself against.
This past Tues #CameronLamb was shot to death by @kcpolice in his own backyard. He was working on cars when police came and shot him to death. Police have provided no explanation to his family. My office has been retained and we are en route to get answers. pic.twitter.com/J4s7jGOvSe— S. Lee Merritt, Esq. (@MeritLaw) December 8, 2019
So, I think, the obvious conclusion under the law is that these officers cannot claim self-defense when they violated the constitution and created the danger they were in in the first place. And the DA says she doesn’t know whether or not they could renounce themselves and she’s researching where I’m expecting case law to give her a better idea.
BET: What is the Temple, Texas DA’s office saying about the Michael Dean case?
MERRITT: We have independent witnesses that have come forward to say they were actually at the scene when Michael Dean was killed. So, although law enforcement has provided no narrative whatsoever the autopsy report came back yesterday (Dec. 10) and declared it was a homicide.
His name was #MichaelDean. He was 28. He was the father of three beautiful girls and he stocked auto parts for a living. The family hasn’t been told anything other than he was stopped by the police and was shot in the head when he “came toward an officer.” pic.twitter.com/KUKNHkpHhu— S. Lee Merritt, Esq. (@MeritLaw) December 6, 2019
This is Te'yanna w/ her dad #MichaelDean. On Monday she turned 6 y/o. Her dad saved up to get her the perfect princess birthday cake! She won’t be eating that cake anytime soon because that same day @TempleTXPolice shot her dad in the head during a traffic stop. He was unarmed. pic.twitter.com/NcSkV5ZvP2— S. Lee Merritt, Esq. (@MeritLaw) December 6, 2019
BET: What is the name of the officer who used fatal force against Michael Dean?
MERRITT: Law enforcement released the name of the shooter, Carmen DeCruz.
BET: Is Carmen DeCruz a male or female officer?
MERRITT: (Temple Police Department) didn’t reveal the officer’s gender. It seems like they’re giving the officer a chance to scrub his social media. This is how the cities are complicit by the way, they just released his name yesterday (Dec. 10), yesterday evening.
I believe I know who he is because of the previous lawsuit, and the witness has identified this person as the shooter, but they did not release the picture, they did not release the gender, they did not release the file, these are all things I had to discover on my own.
DeCruz and his partner was listed in a federal lawsuit in 2017 where a 15-year-old Latino boy was run over by a Temple, TX police officer. It was DeCruz along with his partner, although DeCruz wasn’t the driver. They left the car on top of the boy under the engine the entire time. They didn’t move the car. They didn’t try to pull the boy from under it, they just left him under the car and left the engine running, so he suffered severe burns over most of his body as a result.
The suit was dismissed.
BET: But that’s unrelated to the Michael Dean case?
MERRITT: Right. But it shows a propensity for brutality, and a history, and a pattern. The city should have fired this officer and the partner or at least reprimanded them a while ago.
In the Dean case, we have an independent witness, who said they came upon the scene just as DeCruz shot into the driver’s side of Mr. Dean’s vehicle. (The witness) didn’t see what was taking place before then. The door was closed, so, Mr. Dean didn’t have time to exit the vehicle yet.
There was no weapon found inside Mr. Dean’s vehicle. Law enforcement has acknowledged that there was no weapon found inside Mr. Dean’s vehicle. So, it appears to be one of those situations where an officer drew down, shot him in his head near his temple, drew down and shot someone without any real justification. He couldn’t have posed a danger to the officer from behind the wheel of the car, the car wasn’t moving forward, the car was parked.
The witness saw that DeCruz pulled Dean out of the car after (he) shot him and tried to perform life-saving measures. Of course, to no avail. (He) then started to lament publicly, “I’m going to lose my f**king job. I f**ked up.” So, those were almost the exact words, by the way, that Amber Guyger said following the murder of Botham Jean in her recorded phone call.
BET: What is the Marshall, Texas DA’s office saying about the Demetrius Williams case?
MERRITT: Demetrius Williams in Marshall (Texas) is the only city I haven’t actually physically been to yet. I do have a chief of investigators meeting me there Wednesday (Dec. 18) or Thursday (Dec. 19) and we’re going to perform a private autopsy on his body. We were particularly concerned about the amount of shots he suffered. Law enforcement said there were 17 shots into his vehicle and one was to his head. I don’t know that the one shot to his head was the only shot or was the fatal shot. So, we’ll be going down there to do a private autopsy.
One of the first lawsuits BET covered, which I worked on, was the murder of Jordan Edwards and it established that Texas police officers are not allowed to shoot at a moving vehicle in order to prevent it from leaving the scene. Jordan was leaving a house party that was being broken up by police. (The officers) thought they had a criminal lead and an officer tried to stop them. When they didn’t stop, another officer, Roy Oliver, riddled his car with bullets, striking 15-year-old Jordan in this head, who was in the passenger seat. It’s the same case.
I know Mr. Williams was older and his record won’t be as perfect as Jordan -- Jordan was a 15-year-old honor roll student -- but the fact pattern is the same and under the law what those officers did when they riddled the vehicle (that Jordan was in) with bullets in order to prevent it from leaving was committed murder. That was the hole in Jordan’s case.
BET: In your opinion, what can be done to address law enforcement’s use of fatal force against Black people?
MERRITT: One of the things we’re working for in each of these cases is police accountability.
Like I said, only 1 percent of these cases are indicted, let alone convicted, convictions are even rarer.
If the media, if my office isn’t tuning in and taking on these cases in small cities like Marshall and Temple, and bigger cities like Kansas City and Dallas, and challenging law enforcement’s use of heavy force and pushing for criminal accountability, law enforcement will believe they’re invincible and they can get away with these things over and over again.
But I also think we need to look into the entire policing culture. How we train police officers in this country is absurd. They spend more time on the gun range than they do in de-escalation tactics or hand-to-hand disarming.
We have virtually no way of treating mental health in this country and the vast majority of police brutality victims are undergoing some sort of mental health crisis at that time that they are brutalized by law enforcement; like my client, Pamela Turner in Houston, a mother who was suffering a mental health crisis and screamed “I’m pregnant” before she was shot five times.
So, I think there has to be a much heavier emphasis on not only training law enforcement officers to deal with mental health issues, but to develop mental health departments in every city.
We also need to address our gun culture and the fact that there are more guns in this country than there are people.
BET: What are you hearing on the ground about the Black lives lost to law enforcement’s use of fatal force?
MERRITT: I think people are getting more and more frustrated and they’re looking for opportunities to fight. I’m also just flooded with people from the streets, people who are experiencing brutality, communities that are over-policed, communities that are marginalized in terms of resources. The streets are upset. The streets are becoming volatile.
But even the celebrities, even the people who are doing well in business, upper-middle-class folks, who follow on social media, they’re continually experiencing the trauma, and not only are they experiencing it, but it’s reaching those communities as well.
No one feels safe anymore. Botham Jean, for example, he was an accountant, living in a swanky apartment in a nice part of Dallas. So, it doesn’t feel like it’s just something that’s a constraint to just the lower-class communities anymore.
Photo: Bennett Raglin/Getty Images