Durham chief says police actions at vigil to be reviewed
Posted December 22, 2013
Durham, N.C. — Durham Police Chief Jose Lopez took to Facebook Sunday evening to respond to concerns about a lack of answers following a decision last week by officers to use tear gas and riot gear to break up what started as a vigil to remember a teen who died last in police custody.
"Please understand that our decision was not entered into lightly and distressing the communities of Durham was not our intent," Lopez said in the statement regarding the Dec. 19 event, which started as a peaceful event of about 200 friends, family and supporters of Jesus Huerta, 17.
Police say Huerta shot himself in the head early on Nov. 19 after he had been searched, handcuffed and placed in the back of a police car.
Since the shooting, his friends and family members have demanded answers about how Huerta could have killed himself and have also called for a federal investigation into the Durham Police Department about possible "patterns and practices" of civil rights violations within the department.
Thursday night's vigil at downtown Durham's CCB Plaza began candlelight, signs and flowers but gradually got louder when some participants began shouting obscenities to the beat of a drum as they marched to police headquarters, where they were told to disperse.
Lopez said Friday that the group reversed course back to CCB Plaza and that some agitators in the crowd then started committing acts of vandalism and hurling rocks and bottles at police.
In his Facebook statement Sunday, Lopez said Thursday night's police actions will be reviewed and that the police department "will be transparent in communicating the findings."
"A review of this incident will include, but is not limited to, assessing the tactics used, intelligence gathered, videos, literature collected, feedback and deployment decisions before, during and after this event," Lopez said.
He went on to say: "Although we hope that such an incident does not repeat itself, we will learn from this incident and work to improve our practices wherever possible."
Lopez said Dec. 11 that Officer Samuel Duncan picked up Huerta early on Nov. 19 in response to a call about a runaway and learned that he had a warrant out for his arrest on a second-degree trespassing charge.
By 2 a.m., according to police, Huerta was dead – his hands still cuffed behind him, slumped over in the back seat of the car outside the Durham Police Department – and a handgun was found in the floorboard of the patrol car. An autopsy confirmed the self-inflicted gunshot wound.
An internal police investigation and an investigation by the State Bureau of Investigation remain active, Lopez said.