Local News

Police: Crowd at Huerta vigil first to use smoke bombs

Posted January 16, 2014

Police in riot gear confronted a shouting crowd Dec. 19, 2013, in downtown Durham. (Mark Simpson / WRAL)

— A final report on Durham police actions to disperse a crowd that had gathered for a vigil to remember a teen who died in police custody says people in the crowd set off smoke bombs and began throwing items at officers before they responded.

Jesus "Chuy" Huerta, 17, was picked up on Nov. 19 on an outstanding second-degree trespassing charge from July. Authorities have determined that he shot himself in the face while sitting in the back of a patrol car with his hands cuffed behind his back.

About 200 people gathered downtown one month later for a peaceful vigil, but the night ended with police in riot gear using tear gas to break up the crowd at CCB Plaza. Six people were arrested.

Police Chief Jose Lopez said the next day that agitators wearing masks infiltrated the crowd, passing out fliers instructing people to be destructive. The agitators later hurled rocks and bottles at police, who had to defend themselves, he said.

The Durham Police Department's final report on the incident to City Manager Tom Bonfield, which was released Thursday, includes photos of masked protesters and of obscenities written in chalk on the CCB Plaza and a copy of the handouts.

"Regardless of opinions about the timing or tactical usefulness of breaking police station and squad car windows, these are appropriate targets," the handouts state, referring to another violent protest that occurred days after Huerta's death.

The police report also notes that officers deployed tear gas only after someone in the crowd set off a smoke bomb.

"Someone from within the protest group deployed a smoke bomb. The order for the Mobile Field Force (MFF) to deploy two smoke devices was given immediately. The smoke sent most of the spectators out of the plaza," the report states. "Given the use of force against officers by the crowd, CS irritant gas (tear gas) was deployed as soon as they started throwing objects."

Police said last week that the preliminary findings of an internal investigation determined that Officer Samuel Duncan missed a .45-caliber handgun Huerta had with him when he was arrested, despite the officer frisking the teen. The department is trying to determine whether Duncan violated any policies in how he handled the arrest, and he remains on administrative duty pending the outcome of the review.

The State Bureau of Investigation also examined the circumstances surrounding Huerta's death. That report hasn't been released to the public, but Durham County District Attorney Leon Stanback said he based his decision not to file any criminal charges in the case on the findings of the SBI report.


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  • hmmmmm Jan 20, 2014

    Hands cuffed behind his back...shoots himself in the face with an overlooked gun. I find it hard to swallow, but who knows, maybe the boy was a contortionist. Durham police have a bad reputation and they have done things during arrests and/or raids to contribute to that reputation. HOWEVER, I'd like to believe the ones who are crooked are caught & removed from the force. The fact is that in a situation like this, an outside agency (NOT FROM DURHAM) needs to do the investigation! There ARE such things as crooked cops, the same way there are crooks in every other profession. Who knows if this kid saw something he shouldn't have seen. I would certainly hope not, but allowing the IA from the City of Durham to do this investigation is like allowing the department to close ranks. That is why an outside agency, whom the Durham authorities are not familiar with, should do the investigation. Fair & impartial, it is what our country was built on, lets keep it that way.

  • Hill55 Jan 20, 2014

    So let's review a few facts.

    The kid was in possession of stolen property, had a record and was in possession of a gun.

    The church sponsors a prayer vigil and his supporters riot.

    What am I missing here?

  • thomasew52 Jan 17, 2014

    That is probably how they protest in Mexico.

  • sweetlyght Jan 17, 2014

    "Someone from within the protest group deployed a smoke bomb"
    "they started throwing objects."

    lawlessness - that's not ok.

  • clc72 Jan 16, 2014

    For those of you saying Huerta's family has become violent and they should have to pay for the damage - I haven't seen any indication that the family was involved in the violence. Did I miss something?

    I any event, there is no excuse for the way some of these protesters behaved and the police were perfectly correct in their actions. They were doing their job - breaking up a violent situation before someone got hurt.

  • copperino Jan 16, 2014

    View quoted thread

    Right! There was no excuse for the police to be...at the police station.

    Good one.

  • dirtydozen431 Jan 16, 2014

    This group has been infiltrated by anarchists.

  • keithjinnc Jan 16, 2014

    Why are there no vigils for the innocent people who are killed by armed criminals? Why are there no demands for police transparences during homicide investigations? Why do attorneys not flock to the families of those gunned down in the street by criminals committing murder? Because there is no $$$$$ in it and unfortunately that is what this has turned into. Where was the family of this kid when he needed them? Why was he running away from home in the wee hours of the morning and out committing burglaries? Did the officer make a mistake, yep he sure did, but doesn’t everyone. Would this kid’s family be in the streets protesting with their lawyer by their side if instead of taking his own life with the “overlooked” gun he decided to shoot and kill a police officer? I think not! Let’s move on!!

  • Mr. Hans Jan 16, 2014

    And regardless of who started what, one thing's for certain: had the police not been there, they wouldn't have had smoke bombs and bottles thrown at them. They have no one to blame but themselves.

  • XLAW Jan 16, 2014

    'About 200 people gathered downtown one month later for a peaceful vigil, but the night ended with police in riot gear using tear gas to break up the crowd at CCB Plaza. ..." And how exactly does the reporter know that the crowd gathered "...for a peaceful vigil..." Does she possess an ability to read minds ? That may be her opinion - but that does not make it a fact!