Durham mayor wants details of police probe of teen's death
Posted December 30, 2013
Updated December 31, 2013
Durham, N.C. — Mayor Bill Bell and a member of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights say they want more information from Durham police about the death last month of a teen in police custody.
Police have said Jesus Huerta, 17, shot himself in the head early on Nov. 19 after he had been searched, handcuffed and placed in the back of a patrol car. Officer Samuel Duncan had picked up Huerta in response to a call about a runaway and then learned the teen had a warrant out for his arrest on a second-degree trespassing charge.
The State Bureau of Investigation is still reviewing Huerta's death.
Bell said Monday that he and Durham City Council members want to see the report detailing the police department's internal investigation of the case by next week.
"Tell us what they know and what they don't know," the mayor said. "They can tell us why they can't provide answers – if they have dependencies on other agencies, I can understand that – but to just not do anything is not acceptable."
Huerta's death has prompted two protest marches, including one on Dec. 19 that ended with police in riot gear using tear gas to disperse a crowd of people on CCB Plaza downtown. Six people were arrested.
Police Chief Jose Lopez blamed agitators in the crowd for the confrontation, but he has said that he would review his officers' actions.
Huerta's friends and family members have called for a federal investigation into the Durham Police Department about possible "patterns and practices" of civil rights violations within the department.
Bell received an email after the Dec. 19 protest from the special assistant to Martin Castro, chairman of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights. In the email, the assistant said Castro wants to discuss Huerta's death.
"I'm not surprised they'd show an interest," Bell said, adding that he believes the agency wants to ensure everyone's civil rights are being protected by Durham police.
An attorney for the commission said the group has not considered, voted or expressed an opinion on the Huerta case. The correspondence from Castro reflects his personal interest, the attorney stated.
Bell and City Manager Tom Bonfield have asked the North Carolina Attorney General's Office and the SBI to expedite the state review of the case.
Huerta's family and the public deserve answers, the mayor said.
"Where did the gun come from? Why was it in the car? Who did it belong to?" he asked. "The longer it stays out there with no answers, it leads to more speculation."
Bell said he hasn't seen so much attention from the media and the community surrounding a police investigation since Crystal Mangum falsely accused three Duke University lacrosse players of rape almost eight years ago.