A former Texas police officer is on trial for manslaughter after killing an unarmed Black man during a 2019 traffic stop. Despite following the officer’s commands, Michael Dean, 28, was still shot in the head at point blank range.
“If my son was in the wrong, so be it but why is he dead?” Michael Dean’s mother, Christine Dean told Temple Daily Telegram.
The jury trial of former Temple Police Officer, Carmen DeCruz, 55, is underway to learn if he will serve prison time for the shooting.
“Michael Dean was taken away from them almost three years ago. His body was missing for a week and they were not given any narrative to what happened to him,” civil rights attorney Lee Merritt said.
Merritt is representing Dean’s family in their ongoing lawsuit against the city.
The incident happened around 8 p.m. on Dec. 2, 2019. According to the arrest affidavit, DeCruz first encountered Dean after he was allegedly speeding. DeCruz activated his patrol car lights to initiate a traffic stop. Dean did not immediately stop his vehicle and DeCruz pursued the vehicle until Dean reached an intersection shortly after.
After Dean came to a stop, DeCruz pulled around Dean’s vehicle in an attempt to “block him” according to the arrest affidavit.
DeCruz approached Dean’s vehicle from the front passenger door with his service weapon drawn. He ordered Dean to turn off the vehicle and hand him the keys.
“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. Officer DeCruz had the handgun pointed at Dean with his finger on the trigger,” the arrest affidavit said.
“Officer DeCruz pulled on the keys with his left hand and his right hand also pulls backwards causing the handgun to fire striking Michael Dean in the head,” the report continued.
Dean received medical aid but was pronounced dead at the scene.
The case has received several delays over the years, in part due to the pandemic, KXXV reports.
DeCruz was arrested on Feb. 10, 2020, in connection with Dean’s death and was charged with manslaughter. His bond was set for $500,000 but was later reduced to $80,000 by a judge. He was resigned from the Temple Police Department on Feb. 19, 2020.
Robert McCabe, DeCruz’ attorney said in a 2020 interview, “bail amounts typically range anywhere from $10,000 to $100,000. In this case, half a million dollars was at least 5 times as much as a reasonable bail amount should have been for an offense like this.”
McCabe went on to say DeCruz’s lack of criminal history contributed to his bond reduction.
DeCruz was indicted on March 19, 2020, by a grand jury. His indictment said he, “recklessly caused the death of … Michael Lorenzo Dean, by maintaining his finger on the trigger of the handgun causing the handgun to discharge and shooting said Michael Dean while the defendant was attempting to gain control of the keys of the vehicle operated by Michael Lorenzo Dean,” the Temple Daily Telegram reported.
Although jurors have seen the full bodycam and dashcam video during the trial that began on Jan. 23, the video has not been released to the public.
“Eventually the family should get it, but they shouldn’t have to file a lawsuit to get it, that’s the unfortunate part…it doesn’t allow the family to heal and move forward,” civil rights attorney U.A. Lewis told KXXV in June 2020.
“They’ve made it a point to leave the courtroom every time the body camera footage of the victim, Michael Dean, is shown,” Merritt told reporters last week of Dean’s family refusal to watch the video once it actually came available.
During the trial, forensic scientist Dr. Elizabeth Ventura testified, Dean was shot “three to five feet away from him,” Concho Valley reported.
Dean was under the influence of alcohol and had marijuana in his system, Ventura added to her testimony about the results of the autopsy she conducted on Dean.
Trial testimony continued with witnesses Officers Nicolas Prouty and Carmen Davila who said they found DeCruz “performing CPR on Dean and wrapping his head in gauze,” Concho Valley reported. “They said they offered to take over the CPR, but DeCruz initially waved them off and told them to handle a group of bystanders who had gathered at the scene,” the report continued.
On Jan. 26 during the trial, some witnesses gave testimony about the claim the police did not take complete witness statements.
One of the responding officers who arrived to the scene admitted during the trial, “he didn’t take the full witness statement down, but this wasn’t done on purpose or to protect DeCruz. He said their entire interview was recorded and used for the investigation. He also said that written statements are not meant to be a verbatim account,” KXXV reports.
Another witness testified he saw DeCruz “giving Michael Dean CPR.” He went on to say, “while he was questioned by police at the scene, he heard DeCruz say, ‘My life is (expletive), my career is (expletive) and I’ve (expletive) up for my family’ and he dropped to his knees.”
The witness then said DeCruz “unholstered his weapon but his commander told him to re-holster his gun” then DeCruz “punched a nearby electrical box out of frustration,” the report said. These details are what the witness accused police of omitting in their report.
A Texas Ranger said during the trial, “Rangers generally are the ones that remove firearms from the scene after officer-involved shootings,” in response to another Temple police officer reportedly removing DeCruz’ gun from his person, unloading it and placing it into a box in the back of the police car. The unidentified TPD officer said, “he was instructed to do this because they feared that DeCruz would possibly take his own life,” KXXV report said.
Merritt said the omission of key details in witness statements is concerning.
“My concern is the behavior of the Temple Police Department. They had those statements, and they chose to leave them out of certain documents,” Merritt told KWTX.
“He didn’t deserve to be shot down. Nobody can give me answers. If he was in the wrong there would be a whole story out there, wouldn’t there?” Christine Dean asked during a Telegram interview.
Dean’s family filed a $10 million civil rights lawsuit against the City of Temple, Texas but a federal judge halted the civil lawsuit until DeCruz’ criminal prosecution concludes.
In 2017, DeCruz was involved in another excessive force lawsuit that left a 15-year-old pinned underneath a squad car for 10 minutes after being intentionally run over, the Dallas Morning News reports.
“Michael Dean’s minor children will never fully recover,” Merritt said.
If convicted, DeCruz faces two to 20 years in prison for manslaughter under Texas law.
We will update this story as it develops.