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Durham mayor wants details of police probe of teen's death

Posted December 30, 2013
Updated December 31, 2013

Jesus Huerta (Photo courtesy of the Huerta family)
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— 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.


This story is closed for comments.

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  • PDMARTIN Jan 7, 2014


    Did you really spell handcuffed with "p's". Dude..... And BTW what is with this "people of NC want answers". No we don't we know what happened. Are you still trying to figure it out?

  • candyappleelixir Jan 2, 2014

    Does anyone hold the 17 yo responsible for HIS actions?

  • alwaysconcernedmom Jan 2, 2014

    Let the SBI do their job and then act on their findings. All this is doing it keeping it fresh so more "peaceful" protestors will be out and about and create havoc in our streets again.

  • bowens44 Jan 2, 2014

    "I understand that everyone wants answers but you must allow everyone to conduct their investigations. "

    did you mean to say cover ups?

  • bowens44 Jan 2, 2014

    "Missing a weapon or contraband hidden on a prisoner is just as easy as misspelling the word “handcuffed”. Everyone is capable of making a mistake, even law enforcement."

    sure and if you make a mistake on your job that results in the death of another there are likely to be repercussions.

  • icdmbpppl Jan 2, 2014

    What Mayor Bell wants is a new police chief, so he can tie the hands of law enforcement. Durham has a terrible crime problem. Let the cops do their jobs, Mr. Mayor.

  • carolinapirates Dec 31, 2013

    This isn't an episode of Law and Order or CSI, investigations take time. Typically, Internal Investigations which is what DPD is conducting, don't take that much time, the criminal investigation which is the one the SBI is conducting, take longer. The DPD can't release much since it is a personnel matter and the SBI isn't going to release information prematurely since it is a criminal investigation and doing so, could jeopardize any potential prosecution. It is understandable everyone wants answers but we just have to be patient and allow these two separate agencies to do their jobs, then after the investigations is done, then you can complain about it.

  • The2ruthHurts Dec 31, 2013

    People are always asking the wrong questions and want answers that only justify their own truths. How do you expect police officers to do their jobs with such hate, disregard and animosity against them just because of their job title. Lack of gratitude and appreciation. Cops cannot win either way.

  • farm Dec 31, 2013

    keithjinnc... Ha!

  • keithjinnc Dec 31, 2013

    678devilish; Missing a weapon or contraband hidden on a prisoner is just as easy as misspelling the word “handcuffed”. Everyone is capable of making a mistake, even law enforcement.