The Texas police officer who killed an unarmed Black man by shooting him in the head last week has a history of being accused of using excessive force, according to a report from 2017. Carmen DeCruz, an officer with the Temple Police Department in the central part of the state, has been identified as the cop who killed Michael Dean on Dec. 3. And while little else about the encounter between DeCruz and Dean has been announced, it was reported in 2017 that the officer was named in an excessive force lawsuit for his actions surrounding the apprehension of an alleged suspect two years earlier.
The report from the Dallas Morning News about the lawsuit seemed to be the first glimpse into the mind of a man behind a killing that a preliminary autopsy report said was a homicide. And while the circumstances that the lawsuit stemmed from were not deadly like the one last month, it was still very troubling.
DeCruz and his partner at the time were accused of intentionally running over Kaylem Gonzalez, a teenager, and leaving him under their squad car, which remained idling for 10 minutes and burned the 15-year-old boy’s body. The teenager’s mother filed the lawsuit that specifically named DeCruz and blamed him and his partner for Gonzalez’s “third-degree burns to his torso, thighs and pelvis while pinned beneath the running vehicle.”
The lawsuit also said that “[e]mergency workers smelled the burning flesh, but no one made efforts to move the car or turn off the engine,” adding that the teenager “was unable to flee or do anything. He was being burned alive.”
Police reportedly spun the narrative to say that the teenager was hurt while fleeing an attempted home invasion with other teens.
According to the Dallas Morning News, the Temple Police Department posted on its Facebook page that it was all one big unfortunate coincidence that one of its cruisers ended up on top of the teen: “the officer stopped his patrol vehicle and began a search of the area in an attempt to find the second suspect. As he exited his car, the officer discovered the second suspect had become trapped under the patrol vehicle. Temple Fire and Rescue came to the scene and lifted the patrol vehicle off the suspect, and he was transported to Scott and White Hospital for treatment.”
While the results of that lawsuit were not immediately was unclear, the damning report from 2017 paints a picture of DeCruz’s possible preferred policing tactics of being a judge, jury and executioner instead of allowing justice to take its course in a court of law.
Civil rights attorney S. Lee Merritt, who is representing Dean’s family, said during a press conference Wednesday that he didn’t have any faith in local law enforcement conducting an investigation. He said Dean’s family was going through “torture” after “their loved one was shot in the head by a police officer” and getting “absolutely no explanation for that use of deadly force.”
Dean’s mother has said she needs to hear the truth, for better or for worse.
“If my son was in the wrong, so be it,” Christine Dean said last week. “But why is he dead? 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?”
The Temple Police Department didn’t release information that someone was killed in an officer-involved shooting until the afternoon of Dec. 3. When questioned as to why this was omitted from the initial news release after Dean had already been declared dead, spokesman Chris Christoff said the incident occurred in public, “meaning that the vehicle had the potential of being easily recognizable. We wanted an opportunity to notify Dean’s family prior to releasing the information to the public.”
The officer-involved shooting also wasn’t listed on LexisNexis Community Crime Map, which is what Temple Police Department uses to inform the public of incidents in the neighborhood.
Last week marked the most recent high-profile instance of allegations of excessive force and police brutality against the Temple Police Department. Aside from Dean’s killing last week and Gonzalez suing for excessive force, Stephen Gayle, a 40-year-old mentally ill Black man, was killed in 2017 after a struggle with police. “Multiple witnesses claimed to Channel 6 News that the officers beat the man,” the local NBC affiliate reported at the time.
“The cop, he got out the car, he body-slammed [Gayle] and put him up in the car,” one witness told Channel 6 about Gayle. “Then [the officer] took him out. He was screaming for his mom, and then he died.”
Dean leaves behind three elementary-age children.
His death comes after Fort Worth Police Officer Aaron Dean shot and killed Atatiana Jefferson, also 28, in her own home in October. That just about a year after Dallas Police Officer Amber Guyger shot and killed Botham Jean, 26, in his own home. Guyger was convicted of murder on Oct. 1 and sentenced to 10 years in prison. Dean resigned from the police force before he could be questioned and has since been charged with murder.