A Texas police officer has been charged in the shooting that killed an unarmed Black man during a traffic stop last year.
Temple officer Carmen DeCruz was indicted on manslaughter charges Monday in the death of 28-year-old Michael Dean, according to the Bell County District Attorney’s office. DeCruz, 52, fatally shot the dad of three Dec. 2 after a brief pursuit and “altercation of some sort.”
“The Texas Rangers’ investigation developed facts and evidence which support the elements of manslaughter,” Bell County DA Henry Garza said in a statement.
DeCruz was taken into custody Monday.
The deadly encounter unfolded when the officer attempted to stop Dean for speeding, an affidavit states. Dean failed to pull over, however, prompting a short pursuit. The driver eventually stopped at the intersection of two roadways and DeCruz engaged him, blocking Dean in with his cruiser.
Next, the officer approached with his gun drawn and ordered Dean to turn off the vehicle and toss him the keys, police bodycam footage shows.
According to an affidavit: “Officer DeCruz had the handgun pointed at Dean with his finger on the trigger. [He] 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, his handgun, in his right hand.”
Tragedy struck when the officer tugged on the keys, causing his right hand to also pull backward. The weapon discharged, striking Dean in the head.
A report confirmed the driver was unarmed. Dean’s death was later ruled a homicide and DeCruz was placed on leave.
The local father’s killing sparked outcry from the local community, as well as Dean’s family who argue the criminal charges are far too lenient.
“The Dean family finds this charge wholly inappropriate given the evidence available in the case,” the family’s lawyer Lee Merritt told BET News. “Dean was shot in his temple through a closed-door seconds after being pulled over for a minor traffic violation.”
“We’re demanding that the appropriate charges be pursued,” Lee continued. “It is clear that [DeCruz] intended to cause serious bodily harm when he shot Michael Dean in the face without justification.
According to local station KWTX, the victim’s family met with the Bell County district attorney Tuesday to discuss the manslaughter charge, arguing there was enough evidence to charge DeCruz with murder.
Manslaughter carries a sentence of two to 20 years in prison and fines up to $10,000.
In calling for harsher charges, Merritt argued the officer has a “propensity for brutality” and pointed to DeCruz’s involvement in a 2017 incident where a Latino teen was run over by a car and suffered severe burns from the engine.
DeCruz remains jailed on $500,000 bond.