Teen who died in Durham police custody had ingested massive amount of cough medicine
Posted February 27
Durham, N.C. — A Durham teen who died in police custody in November had a potentially lethal dose of cough medicine in his system, according to a toxicology report released Wednesday.
Jesus "Chuy" Huerta, 17, died Nov. 19 shortly after Officer Samuel Duncan picked him up on an outstanding trespassing charge. He was handcuffed in the back of a patrol car when, according to an autopsy report, he died of a close-range gunshot to his mouth.
Blood samples taken during his autopsy turned up no narcotics or alcohol in his system, but they showed he had chlorpheniramine, an antihistamine, and Dextromethorphan, which is an active ingredient in many over-the-counter cough medicines, in his system.
Dr. Ruth Winecker, chief toxicologist for the Office of the State Medical Examiner, said Thursday that the level of Dextromethorphan in Huerta's blood – liver tissue samples also showed high levels of the cough suppressant – was a potentially lethal dose that could have caused the teen to hallucinate.
The Durham Police Department determined that Duncan missed a .45-caliber handgun Huerta was carrying when the officer frisked the teen before arresting him. The department is investigating whether Duncan violated policies in how he handled Huerta's arrest, and the officer remains on administrative duty pending the outcome of that review.
Prosecutors initially said no criminal charges would be filed, but they are taking a second look at it following an anonymous tip that led to new information in the case.
Huerta's family has questioned the police department's explanation of the teen's death and called for a federal investigation of possible civil rights violations.
Protests over his death have resulted in three violent clashes with police, but a peaceful vigil was held last week to mark the three-month anniversary of his death.