Police: Crowd at Huerta vigil first to use smoke bombs
Posted January 16
Durham, N.C. — 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.