Durham police chief's text: Huerta 'not searched well'
Posted January 15
Durham, N.C. — Durham's police chief admitted in a text message minutes after 17-year-old Jesus Huerta fatally shot himself while in police custody in November that the teen was "not searched well," according to text messages obtained Wednesday by WRAL News.
"(Seventeen) yr old male was arrested, but not searched well and had a gun concealed, shot himself in back of police car while at the rear of police headquarters. He has died," Chief Jose Lopez wrote in a message received at 3:32 a.m. Nov. 19 by City Manager Tom Bonfield.
Huerta had been picked up earlier that morning by Officer Samuel Duncan in response to a runaway call by Huerta's family and was on his way to be booked on an outstanding trespassing charge shortly before 3 a.m. when, according to an autopsy report, the teen shot himself in the face while he was handcuffed in the back of Duncan's police cruiser.
A preliminary report into an internal investigation released last week concluded Duncan missed a .45-caliber semiautomatic handgun when he arrested Huerta, but Lopez's text message – obtained as part of a public records request – appears to be that the chief knew early on that there was a problem with the search
"It was a cursory comment that I was giving the city manager as a heads up," Lopez said Wednesday. "I knew, even then, we would investigate it. Many of the things that we account to the manager change."
The Durham Police Department is still investigating whether Duncan violated policies in how he handled Huerta's arrest and frisk, including why he missed the gun. Duncan remains on administrative duty pending the outcome of that review.
Huerta's family and others in the community have questioned the police's explanation of the teen's death, and public pressure built for the department to release the findings of its internal investigation.
A complete report into the investigation, which is ongoing, will be released at a later date, police say.
Durham County District Attorney Leon Stanback, however, announced Tuesday that he won't pursue charges in the case, saying a State Bureau of Investigation report showed there is not probable cause to charge that a crime occurred.
Huerta's family, which has called for a federal investigation into the Durham Police Department, had no comment on Stanback's decision, attorney Alexander Charns said, but it did question how the SBI report was compiled.
Stanback said his office would provide the family a copy of the SBI report, and an SBI spokeswoman said in a statement Wednesday that it is willing to meet with Huerta's family about the investigation but that SBI reports are not public under state law.
Charns said Wednesday that the family is "heartened" by the SBI's offer.
"We have an item, an area of inquiry, upon which we will ask the SBI to follow up," he said. "It is an investigative avenue that we want pursued."