A Texas police officer has been indicted in the fatal shooting of an unarmed Black man during a December 2019 traffic stop.
Temple, Tex., officer Carmen DeCruz, 52, was charged with second degree manslaughter on Monday in the death of Michael Dean, 28, who was shot in the head during their encounter, according to the Bell County, Texas District Attorney’s Office. He was taken into custody and held on $500,000 bond.
According to a probe by the Texas Rangers, the investigative division of the state’s department of public safety, Dean, a father of three, was stopped by DeCruz on Dec. 2 after a short pursuit when the officer spotted him on his radar. Dean stopped his Gray PT Cruiser at the intersection of two major roadways and DeCruz engaged him after which an altercation ensued. The report is not specific and does not say if the altercation was verbal or physical, only calling it “an altercation of some sort.” However, at some point during the exchange, DeCruz’s service weapon discharged, striking Dean in the head.
A preliminary autopsy ruled Dean’s death a homicide and DeCruz was placed on administrative leave. A report filed with the Texas Attorney General’s office showed that Dean was unarmed. What has raised questions about the case is that Dean was shot in the head when police are typically trained to shoot toward center mass, generally in the torso area.
Dean’s death has also led to an outcry from his family and local community leaders who believes that the charge is too light, given the circumstance.
“The Dean family finds this charge wholly inappropriate given the evidence available in the case. Dean was shot in his temple through a closed door seconds after being pulled over for a minor traffic violation," said family attorney S. Lee Merritt, exclusively to BET.com. "It is clear that 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."
In December, Merritt told BET that his office had independent witnesses who said they were there while the shooting occured. Merritt told BET that he now has a signed affidavit from that witness detailing the events.
“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.
“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,” Merritt continued. “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.”
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Merritt also provided some additional details into DeCruz’s background including his involvement in a 2017 federal lawsuit accusing him of partaking in an incident where a 15-year-old Latino boy was run over with a car and left there while the engine ran, resulting in severe burns. DeCruz was not the driver, Merrit said.
The suit was dismissed and while unrelated to the Dean case, Merritt says, shows a lack of compassion and responsibility on the part of the Temple, Tex. Police Department.
“It shows a propensity for brutality, and a history, and a pattern,” Merritt said. “The city should have fired this officer and the partner or at least reprimanded them a while ago.”
The Bell County D.A. says DeCruz’s case will be presented to a Grand Jury, but no date has been set.
Photo Credit: Bell County, Tex. Sheriff's Department