A charge and arrest in the officer-involved shooting of Michael Dean, 28, provided some long-awaited answers to what allegedly happened prior to and during the shooting.
Those were answers Dean’s family and local residents didn’t have since the Dec. 2 shooting death of the Temple resident.
Additional answers in the case may take some more time.
Temple Police Officer Carmen William DeCruz, 52, of Killeen was charged Monday afternoon with manslaughter in the shooting of Dean during a traffic stop. He was being held Tuesday in the Bell County Jail with bond set at $500,000.
DeCruz — who had his weapon drawn — reportedly reached into Dean’s vehicle to take his keys, which is what Temple Police Department reportedly referred to as an “altercation” in its Dec. 30 report to the Texas Attorney General’s office. As DeCruz used his left hand to grab the keys and pull, the arrest affidavit said, his right hand pulled back and his finger pulled the trigger of his Glock service weapon. DeCruz shot Dean in his head, and Dean died at the scene despite lifesaving efforts, the affidavit said.
Asked about the use of “altercation” at a Monday evening news conference, interim Temple Police Chief Jim Tobin said that prior to submitting the report, “we checked with the (Texas) Ranger investigating this, because this is their investigation … and said, ‘This is what we’re putting into the narrative, do you agree with that?’ At that time … he said yes.”
The report can be modified, Tobin said.
After more than two months of no narrative disclosed of the shooting, the release of additional information by the Texas Rangers may take a while longer.
No attorneys were listed Tuesday for DeCruz.
Local defense attorney David Fernandez, who is not involved in the case, said law enforcement agencies won’t release reports or videos unless it’s in the courtroom during a hearing — or until the case is concluded.
However, DeCruz is supposed get a copy of the entire investigation, including the videos, Fernandez said.
“That insures that there is not a trial by ambush. This is a good change in the law, commonly called the Michael Morton Act,” Fernandez said.
He said DeCruz and his attorneys aren’t supposed to release the information to the public or anyone not directly connected to the defense team.
The Texas Rangers referred questions Monday to the District Attorney’s office.
“All inquiries to the Texas DPS (Department of Public Safety) regarding the Dean investigation will be asked to contact the Bell County District Attorney’s office,” Sgt. Bryan Washko, spokesman, said.
“As this case is now in active litigation, I am limiting public comment on this case to what I have provided to media sources at this time,” Garza said.
The news release that announced the arrest and manslaughter charge against DeCruz came from Garza’s office.
More transparency needed
What disturbed Fernandez, he said, is the Temple Police Department and Rangers wouldn’t release information because it would “taint” the investigation.
Temple Police didn’t provide the Telegram with one of two reports made on Dec. 30 to the state attorney general’s office, even after the Telegram did a story on one of the reports on Dec. 31.
Tobin said the department initially was unaware that the attorney general had made such reports open in December 2016, saying Temple hasn’t had many of those types of investigations the last three years.
“When the first report came out (in a Telegram story), that was a surprise to us, again,” Tobin said. “We had made those reports, we turned them in, and basically that was the end of it.
“We didn’t turn the other one over because we just didn’t think of it.”
Bennie Walsh, the president of the local chapter of the NAACP, said that “dragging this on was to benefit them, the Temple PD. They’re making sure their bases are covered,” making sure things are good on their end in case they want to fire the police officer.
Walsh, who helped organize several protests calling for information in the case, said he was pleased the family got an answer that the officer was in the wrong, but not pleased with the charge of manslaughter. He said he realized it would be difficult to get a murder charge since the prosecutor probably thinks he has a better chance of winning a manslaughter case against a police officer.
Mayor pro tem Judy Morales said she hopes that this event helps the city move forward on becoming more transparent in the future and communicating better.
“In the end, all we want is justice,” Morales said. “We need to be better prepared, and I think this has opened the door for us to look at all the different aspects of what needs to be looked at so that we will be more transparent and quicker to respond to (similar incidents).”
Temple Mayor Tim Davis also addressed Temple Police Department’s refusal to give out releasable information.
“I am one of those idiots who just assume everyone is telling the truth until I found out that they are not,” Davis said. “So, whenever they are telling me and Council that this information could taint the investigation and this information is not really releasable information, we believe that.”
Austin is developing an official policy that addresses the release of information in police shootings, Fernandez said. He thinks the city of Temple should follow that example instead of leaving it to the police department to decide how and if they will release information, he said.
Staff writer Jerry Prickett contributed to this report.