BELTON, Texas – A Central Texas police officer was charged Monday with manslaughter for the fatal shooting of an unarmed man during a traffic stop, officials said.
Temple Officer Carmen DeCruz was charged with the second-degree felony in the Dec. 2 shooting of Michael Dean, Bell County District Attorney Henry Garza said in a statement. His bond was set at $500,000. He was placed on paid administrative leave after the shooting.
If convicted of the charge, DeCruz could face two to 20 years in prison.
Police in Temple, a city of 76,000 people about 70 miles (112 kilometers) northeast of Austin, have said little about the shooting and consistently referred questions to the Texas Rangers, who submitted the findings that led to the charge.
Dean was black, while jail booking records list DeCruz as American Indian.
DeCruz tried to stop Dean's PT Cruiser for speeding on the night of Dec. 2, but the 28-year-old didn't stop and a “short pursuit ensued,” according to a police report dated Dec. 30 and sent to the Texas Attorney General's Office. It also referred to “an altercation of some sort between" the men but didn't elaborate, and the charging document doesn't reference it.
An arrest affidavit filed Monday said that once Dean was stopped, DeCruz went to the passenger side window and demanded that Dean shut the motor off and hand over the keys.
The affidavit said DeCruz reached for Dean's keys with his left hand while holding his handgun with his right, finger on the trigger. When DeCruz pulled back, his finger squeezed the trigger, discharging the weapon into Dean's head. DeCruz then pulled Dean from the passenger side of his car. He and other responding officers administered first aid until paramedics arrived, but Dean was dead at the scene, the affidavit stated.
S. Lee Merritt, an attorney representing Dean's family, called the charge inadequate.
“Michael Dean was shot in the temple through a closed door seconds after being pulled over for a minor traffic violation,” Merritt said in a statement. “We are demanding that the appropriate charges be pursued,” he added.