Warrant links teen who died in Durham police custody to burglary
Posted January 7
DURHAM, N.C. — 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.