An attorney representing the family of an unarmed black man killed during a traffic stop by a Texas cop is questioning the charges.

Lee Merritt, an attorney representing Michael Dean’s family, said Bell County District Attorney Henry Garza told him that he believes the shooting was accidental, based on the Texas Rangers’ investigation, and that’s why Carmen DeCruz is charged with manslaughter instead of murder.

In this Monday, Feb. 10, 2020, photo, Lee Merritt, left, the Dean family's attorney, calls for a higher charge hours after Temple Police Officer Carmen DeCruz was charged with manslaughter in the fatal shooting on Dec. 2 of 28-year-old Michael Dean.  (Joel Valley/The Temple Daily Telegram via AP)

“We get that that’s [DeCruz’s] defense,” Merritt said. “We don’t appreciate that the DA has accepted that defense in his charging decision. That’s just his defense.”

Garza would not answer questions Wednesday from The Associated Press on the charging decision, saying in an email that since it’s an active investigation he’s limiting public comment.

Merritt said he and Dean’s family believe DeCruz should be charged with murder.

“The difference is intent: whether Carmen DeCruz intended to cause the death of Mr. Dean or not,” said Merritt, who has not seen video of the shooting.

Details that have emerged more than two months after the shooting still leave the unanswered question: Why did he pull the trigger?

This Monday, Feb. 10, 2020, booking photo provided by the Bell County Jail shows Temple Police officer Carmen DeCruz.  (Bell County Jail via AP)

DeCruz, 52, a Temple officer, was charged with manslaughter Monday in the fatal shooting of Dean, a black 28-year-old, in the city of 76,000 people about 70 miles northeast of Austin.

Before then, Temple police had released little information about the Dec. 2 shooting.

An arrest affidavit released Monday details what can be seen on DeCruz’s vehicle and body cameras, though the footage hasn’t been released to the public.


The affidavit said video shows DeCruz approaching the vehicle with his handgun drawn. DeCruz, who is listed in jail records as American Indian, approaches Dean’s vehicle from the passenger side, ordering Dean to turn off the vehicle and give him the keys. The video shows DeCruz pull the keys with his left hand while his right hand, with his finger on the trigger, pulls backward. The gun fires, striking Dean in the head.

The Texas Rangers submitted the findings that led to the charge. The affidavit said Dean didn’t “stop immediately” when DeCruz tried to pull him over for speeding.

In this Monday, Feb. 10, 2020, photo, Interim Police Chief Jim Tobin talks to media after Temple Police Officer Carmen DeCruz was arrested on a manslaughter charge in the fatal shooting on Dec. 2 of Temple resident Michael Dean, in Temple, Texas. (Joel Valley/The Temple Daily Telegram via AP)

Interim Temple police Chief Jim Tobin said it “would not be the normal protocol” for an officer approaching someone pulled over for speeding to have a finger on the trigger of his gun.

Authorities have not said whether they interviewed DeCruz or what he might have told them.

DeCruz remained jailed Wednesday on $500,000 bond. Court records don’t list an attorney for him.

DeCruz, who was placed on administrative leave after the shooting, could face two to 20 years in prison if convicted of the manslaughter charge.

In the weeks following the shooting, police had said that DeCruz shot Dean but did not explain the circumstances, including how the two men came into contact.

Two reports Temple police filed Dec. 30 with the Texas attorney general’s office and made available on its website offered some details. One of the reports revealed that the shooting occurred during a traffic stop and that Dean did not have a weapon. The other report said the pair had “an altercation of some sort.”

This file photo provided by the family of Michael Dean shows Dean with his daughter Te'yana. (Courtesy from Michael Dean Family via AP, File)

Asked about the use of the word “altercation,” Tobin said the reports were done early in the investigation. He did not explain why that word was used but indicated it would be revised.

Tobin said the Temple Police Department didn’t realize that the reports would be available to the public “as quick as they were doing it,” calling media coverage “a surprise.”

Mayor Tim Davis said the city had feared putting out information that turned out to be untrue, but acknowledged that with the void of information, rumors spread.


“I would say that the city has learned that the more information that we can put out, the faster the better,” he said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.