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Teen who died in Durham police custody had ingested massive amount of cough medicine

Posted February 27, 2014

Jesus Huerta (Photo courtesy of the Huerta family)

— 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.


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  • Greg Boop Feb 28, 2014
    user avatar

    As outlined in Thursday's N&O article on the front page of section B, the use of DXM cough medicine mixed with other ingredients is becoming a dangerous trend with teens.


    "A report by a California expert says about 10 percent of teens surveyed said they had used DXM cough medicine to get high. The practice is called Triple C’s, Robo’ing or Robotripping, or Skittles."

    "Ilene Anderson, senior toxicologist at the California Poison Control System, said in the report, “Dextromethorphan Abuse in Adolescence: A Rising Trend,” that teens abuse the drug because it is legal, relatively cheap and they think it’s safe."

  • dwr1964 Feb 27, 2014

    but I also don't understand why it is taking so long for them to investigate whether or not the officer followed procedure.....clc72

    This investigation began approximately 5 seconds after this kid killed himself. I am really not sure what point you are trying to prove here. Now if you are referring to the amount of time it is taking for investigators to come to a final decision, that could take months. The speed of conclusion, is most likely what you are complaining about. Not that you would know and understand this.

  • busyb97 Feb 27, 2014

    I've accidentally taken too much cough medicine before (it was an over the counter- but I learned more than 30mg is too much for my system to handle, and those "extended release" versions are too much...it just makes me very sleepy. Thankfully! never knew you could be hallucinating.

    So will this prompt them to outlaw us buying cough medicine like we can no longer easily buy the good decongestants because teens decide to see if it gives them a good buzz?!

  • diana123 Feb 27, 2014

    he brought his arms up through his legs and then they were in front of him, he was small and agile and was able to easily do this.

  • diana123 Feb 27, 2014

    well he's with jesus now.

  • clc72 Feb 27, 2014

    View quoted thread

    Well, HE would be blamed, as he is the one who pulled the trigger, just like HE is responsible for taking his own life. However, there is the serious problem with the officer not conducting a proper search to consider. I don't buy into the whole DPD cover-up of a murder - but I also don't understand why it is taking so long for them to investigate whether or not the officer followed procedure. The suspect had a Gun. In a police car. After a search. The facts speak for themselves. The officer put his life and the lives of innocent people in danger by not doing his job. He needs to be terminated. And then this story needs to go away.

  • Poupmouse Feb 27, 2014

    What brand of cough syrup? Why won't the Durham police dept tell us what brand cold medicine was used?! This huge cover up is just incredible! When will it end?! All I want is for WRAL to continue to write at least 1 article about this story every day.

  • Not_Time_Yet Feb 27, 2014

    View quoted thread

    Actually not that difficult, there are several videos online that demonstrate it can be done.

  • Ryan Isaac Feb 27, 2014
    user avatar

    Working in Law Enforcement, you see people "slip cuffs" all the time. They simply slide their hands under their bottoms, and under the back of their legs then stepping through their arms. As a young flexible juvenile, high on cough syrup....not unlikely at all.
    The Officer is to blame though for a poor frisk of the juvenile prior to placing him into his custody.

  • dwr1964 Feb 27, 2014

    View quoted thread

    I am confused by your comment. Was there ever any question of this kid's cause of death?