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Police: Agitators in crowd disrupted Durham vigil

Posted December 20, 2013
Updated December 23, 2013

— Police Chief Jose Lopez said Friday that his officers acted with "a whole lot of restraint" in using tear gas and riot gear to break up what began as a peaceful vigil in downtown Durham Thursday night to remember a teen who died in police custody last month.

Lopez said agitators in the crowd of about 200 arrived wearing masks, passed out fliers instructing people to be destructive and later hurled rocks and bottles at police.

"We knew there were individuals within that group that did not have peaceful intent," the chief said during a news conference.

Jesus "Chuy" Huerta, 17, was picked up on Nov. 19 on an outstanding second-degree trespassing charge from July. Police said he shot himself in the head after he had been searched, handcuffed and placed in a patrol car.

Lopez said tests conducted by the State Bureau of Investigation showed that Huerta had gunshot residue on gloves he was wearing, but no gunshot residue was found on the hands of Officer Samuel Duncan.

"The chief asks us to trust when he provides no way for us to verify his claims," Alexander Charns, an attorney for Huerta's family, said in a statement.

Charns said the family wants to see the gloves and review the test results to determine if the gloves even belonged to Huerta. He added that Durham police have never said how the gun ended up in the patrol car.

Since Huerta's death, his friends and family members have demanded a federal investigation into the Durham Police Department about his death and possible "patterns and practices" of civil rights violations within the department.

Mayor Bill Bell said late Friday that the police department should release the findings of its internal investigation into Huerta's death, adding, "if they don't choose to release it, I would like to know why."

In a separate statement issued through Charns, the family blasted the police response to the vigil.

"Why would (Lopez) send riot police out against a grieving mother holding a flower and candle for her dead son? She was threatened with arrest along with the rest of the family," the statement said. "He sent troops in battle regalia against people holding Our Lady of Guadalupe candles and signs asking for justice. But he can’t stop prayers with force, and he can’t stop the truth from coming out. In a surprising admission, police headquarters was surrounded by crime scene tape last night."

Jesus Huerta SBI tests support Durham police statement that teen shot himself in custody

The vigil began with candlelight, signs and flowers. Gradually it got louder, with participants shouting obscenities to the beat of a drum as they marched from CCB Plaza to the police headquarters, where the crowd was told to disperse.

The group then reversed course and headed back to CCB Plaza. Lopez said that's when acts of vandalism started occurring and his officers came under attack.

The officers used "best law enforcement practices" to disperse the crowd with minimal injuries and property damage, he said. Six people were arrested:

  • Andy Guadalupe Mendoza, 18, of 1229 Berkeley St., charged with failure to disperse on command and resisting law enforcement
  • Gustavo Pascual Gutierrez, 22, of 2008 Angier Ave., charged with one count of trespassing at police headquarters.
  • Benjamin Colt Markgraf, 20, of 10712 Rougemont Road, charged with carrying a concealed weapon, disorderly conduct and impeding traffic.
  • Vianey Fuentes, 17, of Great Bend Drive, charged with failure to disperse on command and resisting law enforcement.
  • Perla Eliza Fuentes, 16, of Tremont Drive, charged with failure to disperse on command and resisting law enforcement.
  • A 15-year-old juvenile female. No information was released on her charges.

Mendoza said Friday that he was at the vigil simply to support the Huerta family.

"We did not expect what happened last night, but yeah, we sort of accomplished what we wanted to. We wanted to show support," he said. "We basically wanted to show that Chuy will never be forgotten."

Other Durham residents who don't even know the family gathered outside police headquarters Friday to support the teen's mother as well.

"I really can't imagine, as a mother of two boys, what her heart feels and to want to be public with her prayer for peace, for answers to her questions," Omisade Burney said. "Durham should be a harm-free zone. Durham should be a safe place for all of our children."

A similar vigil held three days after Huerta's death also turned violent, and Lopez said he wanted to avoid a repeat of that. Unfortunately, he said, people within Thursday night's crowd had other intentions.

"It was supposed to be a peaceful march," he said. "The peaceful intent did not exist prior to and did not exist at that point in time when you start to look at the individuals that were there and the message that they were sending."

Police collected materials handed out during the protest that showed some in the crowd were "teaching others to engage in a destructive, aggressive and assaulting manner." Lopez said.

The agitators put people at more risk by throwing objects than police officers did by using tear gas and breaking up the crowd, he said. A baseball-sized rock hit one officer on a face shield, he said, and one protester suffered a minor injury.

"Nobody is happy about what happened," City Manager Tom Bonfield said, adding that he understands the police department's actions.

"It's difficult to second-guess their decisions about that. There are tactical decisions, tactical decisions that occur that they have to make instantaneous decisions about," Bonfield said. "I’m very confident that the officers that were involved were well trained and well prepared for circumstances."

91 Comments

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  • GETOUT Dec 20, 7:58 p.m.

    Justice4all, thats one of the issues. The family refuses to meet, the invitation has been extended several times. I think they only want to believe that the police are at fault and meeting with the police might compromise that belief by them finding out facts that they dont want to accept. So they choose not to hear anything.

  • timexliving Dec 20, 7:56 p.m.

    "Police do not do the job out of the goodness of their heart, they get paid, quite well I might add. " adammikc

    Well paid? Compared to working at Costco or Walmart maybe.

    "Entry Level Recruit Officers - $33,000 annually with a salary increase to $37,000 with High School or GED; $37,925 with Associates; or $38,850 with Bachelors Degree, after Phase III of the program." SOURCE: http://durhamnc.gov/ich/op/DPD/Pages/Recruiting.aspx

    In that range they would be eligible for ObamaCare subsidies, that's how well they are paid! Compare that to the $51K median household income for the year 2012. SOURCE: http://www.census.gov/prod/2013pubs/p60-245.pdf

    For working terrible shifts in terrible weather these professionals are terribly under compensated.

  • Pseudonym Dec 20, 7:54 p.m.

    Quote from mesb2107: "...it was the amount of police officers that were getting ready to join 300 officers all ready on the ground ...to add 100 more If they knew the agitators were comin..."

    Total of 400 officers??? Are you sure?? Did you count them all or are you engaging in a little creative hyperbole to make a political point?

  • justcommonsense Dec 20, 7:52 p.m.

    A person - Deputy Marshals and Deputy Sheriffs/police officers are not quite the same. Nor do they have the same set of rules. Deputy Marshals are FEDERAL. And yes, they do have the right to do strip searches due to the Patriot Act.

    Local police officers and Deputy Sheriff's don't have the same range of authority.

    I've seen several posters who have repeatedly made anti LEO statements, not just on this story, but others as well. Sad that you hate law enforcement so much. Yes, there are some bad ones across the system, just as with any other job or position.

    As to the poster who commented that they get paid so well...Get real. Most make far less than 50K when they start their careers and it takes a very long time to get a raise. So many think they have all the answers, yet they would fail miserably at the task.

    This family and those agitators need to stop this foolishness. Accept some of the responsibility for these events

  • Justic4All Dec 20, 7:38 p.m.

    The police chief and other LE parties involved with the investigation, need to sit down with the family. The family needs to stay un-emotional while the information is shared with them. Then take it from there.

    Everyone needs to move forward. Calmly

  • changedmyname Dec 20, 7:25 p.m.

    If the vigil was truly in the Spirit of any religious denominations which the majority teach each and everyone of us to forgive,to not pass judgment, tolerance and patience and to love one another. What ever you choose to follow, your actions speak louder than words. Let it go family and forgive.

  • Vote for Pedro Dec 20, 7:20 p.m.

    At first glance, I thought the headline read "Alligators in crowd disrupted Durham vigil". I was like, no wonder, that ain't good.

  • this is fdup Dec 20, 7:14 p.m.

    The sign they carried was wrong yes the officer should have searched him better and there were human errors made. But DPD did not murder this person he killed himself.Also shame on the agitators the family has a right to protest but these agitators just made things bad for the family and the police and the city.

  • Stilllearnin Dec 20, 7:02 p.m.

    "The only problem is they have all the authority and none of the consequences. Police do not do the job out of the goodness of their heart, they get paid, quite well I might add."

    Where do i start, please define well paid then tell me would you do the work for this amount. Work different shifts, work holidays, miss family events, work in adverse weather, be a target because of the clothes you wear, have to make life and death decisions in split seconds, run toward gunfire and I could go on. Do you do you job out of the goodness of your heart, I think not. If you believe what you say, be my guest and become a LEO

  • caniacfan Dec 20, 6:43 p.m.

    DO THE RIGHT THING THE NEXT TIME AND CHECK THE CRIMINAL OUT BEFORE PUTTING HE/SHE IN THE BACK OF A POLICE CAR. DO YOU JOB RIGHT IN THE BEGINNING!

    The ONLY way to be 100% sure you haven't missed anything is to do a strip search which would cause that great ACLU to then crawl down your throat. Trust me when I say the officer probably feels as bad as anyone except for the immediate family.

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