Local News

Durham police chief's text: Huerta 'not searched well'

Posted January 15, 2014

— 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."


This story is closed for comments.

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  • xxxxxxxxxxxxx Jan 16, 2014

    View quoted thread

    No, he is responsible. He shot himself.

  • A person Jan 16, 2014

    Seems to the rest of us that he was searched just fine

  • JEIAKC Jan 16, 2014

    While it is very sad that a young man committed suicide, I think we need to remember the effect his death has on others. The police officer will deal with this the rest of his life, not professionally, but, more importantly, personally. They have admitted that the officer was not informed of his suicidal problems and thought he was merely bringing in a kid on a small charge and that his family was looking for him. Now he will be kicking the bedoodles out of himself for the rest of his life for not treating this kid like a hardened criminal and searching him thoroughly. Also, he knows the family is looking for the young man and if he searches him thoroughly, he gets in trouble for having a hard core approach to a young man. Many fingers can be pointed here, let's step back, point no fingers and learn from this tragedy.

  • GETOUT Jan 16, 2014

    NCPPR1, unfortunately I believe we will hear about it everyday or two. It will continued to be covered with every conspiracy the family comes up with. The outcome of the officers status. The upcoming lawsuit and the wrongful death suit. You can tell by the local media outlets digging up text messages between the chief and city manager that they are gonna stir this pot as long as possible.

  • Lightfoot3 Jan 16, 2014

    "Every poster that thinks the LEO didn't do a through search should ride down to their local PD and ask to ride along and conduct a search on all suspects." - Combat MP

    Perhaps the Durham police chief will do that given he also thinks Huerta wasn't searched well.

    "Maybe Duncan's experience..." - Combat MP

    Or maybe his incompetence. That's why we need to know EVERYTHING that happened. If we just "let this go", and not take corrective measures if they are needed (perhaps in training), then the next time a gun might make it into station and more lives will be in danger.

  • ncprr1 Jan 16, 2014

    Enough already...a kid committed suicide, it was tragic, yada yada yada. Are they going to continue to write a new article about it every day for the rest of 2014?

  • clc72 Jan 16, 2014

    View quoted thread

    I do agree it never would have happened if the kid didn't have the weapon. I'll also stipulate that he is responsible for his own death. Having said that however...

    LEOs have incredibly hard jobs. And they are in almost constant danger. You never know when a routine traffic stop or serving a warrant will end up in violence. And that's why I am such a stickler for all LEOs following proper procedure. One screw-up, accidental or not, and people can die - other officers can die.

    In this particular case, Officer Duncan failed to follow more than one procedure. He missed a .45 during a pat-down AND he "forgot" to log back into the system to turn his car on. He was aware the suspect was moving around and had adjusted his handcuffs in front of him, but he decided not to stop and secure him. It's simply too many mistakes. I don't want an officer that lackadaisical backing up my uncle or my cousin or my brother out on the streets.

  • clc72 Jan 16, 2014

    View quoted thread


    That's the link to the official report on the incident. so we do know what happened between the officer and the suspect (at least we know the officer's side of things). And this is why I'm critical:
    1. There isn't really anywhere a .45 caliber handgun can be concealed on the suspect's body that wouldn't have been found during a proper pat-down. We are not talking about a knife or a packet of drugs - we are talking about a .45 caliber pistol! Hard to hide that under your tongue or in one of your private areas.
    2. Officer Duncan was aware that Huerta was able to manipulate his hands from behind his back and yet he made the conscious decision not to stop and secure his suspect because he was "so close" to the station.

  • GETOUT Jan 16, 2014

    Lol, CLC72 you sound just like the BLET textbook! In theory that's true. That's why they have practical exercises in the academy. The role players job is to hide a weapon and see if the recruit can find it based on what you just posted. Do they always find everything?? No.... With that being said, officers are constantly trained in dealing with the criminal element, as such the criminal element constantly trains themselves in who to hide things from LE (i.e. Google or youtube searching). They even have pants for the concealment of firearms. Its a cat and mouse game. The officer missed it true indeed, but it happens. And since you seem to be a rational thinking person. I think you will agree regardless of everything else, if the kid didn't have the weapon this would have never happened. Wouldn't you agree??? And I am sorry for your loss.......

  • jackaroe123 Jan 16, 2014

    Thanks for sharing about your daughter, bubbaduke, and my condolences for your loss.

    A mistake on Officer Duncan's part led to the late Mr. Huerta's ability to kill himself. A mistake like that that is discovered in a re-frisk by someone else a few minutes later earns you a nasty look. A mistake that leads to a death can very well mean you lose your job, and DPD may face a civil suit that they will almost certainly settle out of court.