After 81 days, the family of Michael Dean still does not know why a Temple police officer fatally shot him in the head during a routine traffic stop.
The officer, Carmen DeCruz, resigned Tuesday. On Feb. 10, DeCruz, 52, was charged with manslaughter, a second-felony, after an investigation and review of police videos of the incident by the Texas Rangers. He is being held in the Bell County Jail on a bail of $500,000.
A Bell County grand jury is expected to hear evidence in the case in the next two weeks. Lee Merritt, a Pennsylvania civil rights lawyers representing Dean’s family, has pressed for first-degree murder charges.
A conviction on manslaughter charges carries a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison and a fine of up to $10,000. A first-degree murder conviction can mean life in prison.
“The Dean family finds this charge [manslaughter] wholly inappropriate, given the evidence available in the case,” Merritt said in a Facebook post. “It is clear that DeCruz intended to cause serious bodily harm or death when he shot Michael Dean in the face without justification. That is murder. We are demanding that the appropriate charges be pursued.”
Temple’s Interim Police Chief Jim Tobin closed the department’s internal investigation. When asked in an email by KCEN-TV to comment, Tobin said, “At this time, the Department is not able to comment on the results of the internal investigation … due to the pending criminal prosecution and anticipated civil litigation.”
Tobin has not responded to a contact or to written questions sent by email from The Texas Monitor.
“I would like to give my condolences and regrets to the Dean family,” Tobin said in a press release issued on the day DeCruz was arrested and charged. “I appreciate their patience during this investigation. This has been a difficult time for the Dean family and the community. 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 has refused to release police dashboard and body camera video footage of Dean’s traffic stop and the events leading up to it. That prompted a petition on Change.org that had 4,242 signatures by Friday.
“Many citizens in the community you serve feel that up to this point, the police department, as well as other elected officials, have NOT been transparent throughout this process,” the petition reads. “Now’s the time to start to repair the damage and make it right. The citizens of Temple, Texas, are watching and waiting for you to do the right thing.”
It isn’t clear whether a written request has been made for release of the footage. If it has, the city would have to ask the Texas Attorney General’s office to determine whether the department can withhold the footage.
A message left with Merritt by The Texas Monitor to ask about the written request and other matters had not been answered at the time this story posted.
“While police departments can decide to release video even while a case remains pending, they have a lot of leeway under the law to withhold it during an ongoing criminal investigation,” Kelley Shannon, executive director of the Freedom of Information Foundation of Texas, said Friday.
Most of what the public knows to this point comes from an affidavit provided to the police department by Samual Dendy, the Texas Ranger who investigated the Dean traffic stop.
Prior to the stop, video obtained by local KWTX-TV showed that DeCruz initially followed Dean’s car to the intersection when DeCruz determined with a radar gun that Dean was speeding. The video showed that Dean at first failed to stop when DeCruz tried to pull him over.
Dendy’s review of all the video footage showed DeCruz with his service weapon drawn when he walked in front of his patrol car to the driver’s side of Dean’s car about 8:15 p.m. Dec. 2, at the intersection of Little River Road and H K Dodgen Loop in Temple.
DeCruz told Dean to turn his car off and asked him for the keys, according to the affidavit. With his gun in his right hand and his finger on the trigger, DeCruz reached into the vehicle to get the keys with his left hand.
As DeCruz pulled the keys toward him, his right hand pulled back and the gun went off, a round hitting Dean in the left side of the head, the affidavit said.
DeCruz pulled Dean from the vehicle’s passenger side. DeCruz and responding officers gave medical aid, but Bell County Justice of the Peace Ted Duffield pronounced Dean dead at the scene, Dendy said in his affidavit.
Investigators at the scene said Dean was unarmed, the affidavit said.
The Southwestern Institute of Forensic Sciences in Dallas said in its autopsy report that Dean died from a gunshot wound to the head. The DPS Crime Laboratory later test-fired DeCruz’ Glock pistol and found it “operational,” the affidavit said.
Tobin said he ordered an internal affairs investigation on Dec. 4. More than two months later, Tobin told DeCruz he intended to suspend him indefinitely, tantamount to firing him. DeCruz chose to submit a letter of resignation.
In a written response to KCEN, Tobin said DeCruz, a nine-year veteran of the department, was not pressured to resign. The chief said he accepted the resignation to avoid the expense of keeping DeCruz on paid administrative leave during a criminal trial and possibly civil actions that could include appeals.
Tobin did not respond to a Texas Monitor question about whether he had begun a review of the department’s overall handling of the Dean investigation. Tobin told reporters after DeCruz was charged that “After-action reviews are commonly performed after critical incidents.”