Local News

Warrant links teen who died in Durham police custody to burglary

Posted January 7, 2014

— A Durham teenager who reportedly killed himself while he was in police custody in November had numerous stolen items in his backpack, according to a search warrant released Tuesday.

Jesus Huerta, 17, died Nov. 19 shortly after a police officer picked him up on an outstanding trespassing charge. Police Chief Jose Lopez has said that Huerta shot himself in the head while he was handcuffed and sitting in the back of a patrol car, an explanation that others in the community have questioned.

The Durham Police Department is expected to publicly release the findings of its internal investigation of the case this week. The State Bureau of Investigation has submitted the report of its independent review of the case to the Durham County District Attorney's Office. Prosecutors, however, are awaiting the results of Huerta's autopsy before deciding how to proceed.

According to an affidavit for a warrant to examine Huerta's cellphone, jewelry and electronics were found inside the backpack that Huerta had with him when he was arrested, and the electronics were found to be stolen in a Nov. 11 residential burglary on Haverford Street in Durham.

Police didn't search the backpack until last week, according to the affidavit.

Three other break-ins between Nov. 11 and Nov. 15 were committed in a manner similar to the one on Haverford Street, the affidavit states, and police wanted to examine Huerta's phone for any evidence linking him to the crimes.

Huerta's family and friends are not convinced by the police department's explanation that the teen committed suicide, and they have called for a federal investigation into the Durham Police Department about possible "patterns and practices" of civil rights violations.

An attorney for the family questioned the validity of linking the teen to a break-in.

"If the police believed any of this, wouldn’t it give them a good reason to properly search and secure a teen whose family called the police asking for help?" attorney Alexander Charns said in an email to WRAL News. "Why wasn’t this search warrant served on the family? Why was this released today?"

Huerta's death has prompted two protest marches, including one on Dec. 19 that ended with six people being arrested after police in riot gear used tear gas to disperse a crowd.


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  • LifeWater Jan 10, 2014

    A few things…

    [quote]Police didn't search the backpack until last week, according to the affidavit./quote]
    That there is an interpretation of the information on the affidavit. An interpretation by the person that wrote this article (Arielle Clay), or her source.
    I'll only make one assumption here, The backpack was most likely checked before being placed in the patrol car to insure it did not contain any guns, bombs, human remains etc.
    At the time, any other items would just be the belongings of Huerta.
    Once this tragedy occurred, it is the investigators responsibility to examine evidence collected on scene (backpack). So yes, once a search warrant was obtained, the back pack would have been thoroughly searched and its contents investigated. It's obviously a timely process and not an investigation that needs to be rushed and riddled with mistakes.

  • thepeopleschamp Jan 9, 2014

    View quoted thread

    So your against the officers that saved the 88 year old woman? Well put. And all police are disgusting? Even those arresting child molesters? Are you saying you would find child molesters less disgusting than police? I didn't know inmates had such open access to the internet.

  • less_govt_is_better_govt Jan 8, 2014

    In case anyone has missed it this will bring change to NC because of the agency involved.

    Sheriff's departments follow different policies since sheriff's are not technically "state employees" they merely serve at the sheriff's good graces. The state government and the big wigs in charge of this whole situation are doing NOTHING MORE THAN TRYING TO AVOID ACCOUNTABILITY!!!!

    Unfortunately the only accountability they will face will be the liability kind which costs the taxpayer.

    The government powers that be just worry about reelection poll numbers since sunless the FEDS get involved post haste this incident pointing any accountability for the parties involved will clearly be swept far under the rug away from citizen eyes.....

  • mulligan013 Jan 8, 2014

    This just seems more than a little fishy

  • clc72 Jan 8, 2014

    To all of you posting that you think the police deliberately killed this kid, I have a couple of questions for you?

    Why? What was the motive? Why wait until puling up into a parking lot where they were more likely to be seen when the officer could have killed him at anytime without a witness during transport?

    Deliberate murder here makes no sense, and frankly insisting the police are evil, disgusting killers only serves to obscure the true problem - that a child is dead due in large part from the incompetence of one officer and now his department is throwing mud at a dead child to try to take our attention away from that fact.

  • Moist Jan 8, 2014

    View quoted thread

    Yes, because theyre still police.

  • Krimson Jan 8, 2014

    And when the family and people publically raise their concerns, tear-gas them... What's next Durham, fire-hoses???

  • Krimson Jan 8, 2014

    Step #1 in covering up the Truth: Discredit your Accuser.

  • jackal10782 Jan 8, 2014

    I want to see an officer demonstrate how this young man managed to shoot himself in the head while handcuffed. Some of my female friends who are very flexible could not get their hands in a position to shoot themselves in the head with their hands restrained behind their back. Maybe officers should switch to zip ties if they work that much better than handcuffs. (we did our experiment with zip ties)

  • LetsBeFair Jan 8, 2014

    Hispanics have no defense as wral and other sites talk negatively about them without regard for them. that is disgusting. It is really easy to find bigotry throughout the website.