17-year-old dies in Durham police custody
Posted November 19, 2013 5:51 a.m. EST
Updated December 10, 2013 6:46 p.m. EST
Durham, N.C. — State Bureau of Investigation agents are trying to determine how a 17-year-old died while in the custody of a Durham police officer early Tuesday.
Officer Samuel Duncan was transporting Jesus Huerta to police headquarters on West Chapel Hill Street shortly before 3 a.m. to pick up a warrant charging the teen with second-degree trespassing.
When the officer got to the parking lot, he heard a loud noise in the car and jumped from the vehicle, police said.
The patrol car rolled into a van and came to rest with Huerta in the back seat.
"Based on the preliminary investigation, it does not appear that any Durham police officer fired a weapon during this incident," Police Chief Jose Lopez told reporters in a statement Tuesday morning.
Lopez declined to take questions and did not say what investigators think the loud noise might have been.
"This is not right. He was (in) the custody of police," said Huerta's sister, Evelin Huerta.
She said Tuesday night that her family was on their way to the police department when they saw commotion around the police cruiser, but they never thought it had anything to do with her brother.
His death now has left her family distraught and wanting answers to many questions they have, including whether he was properly restrained and searched prior to being taken into custody.
"They say that it is not a gunshot wound from a police officer, but they're not telling us if he had a gun on him," Evelin Huerta said. "They're not telling us how in the world he was able to shoot himself. They're not telling us anything, and we need to know."
Jesus Huerta's body was sent to the North Carolina Office of the Chief Medical Examiner in Raleigh for an autopsy.
Duncan, who joined the police department in July 2012, was put on administrative leave with pay pending the outcome of the SBI review, which is standard procedure.
The police department’s professional standards division and homicide unit are also investigating the teen's death.
Jesus Huerta was a student at Riverside High School, where he was known by the nickname "Chuy."
"My heart just dropped," classmate Angel Hernandez said. "He liked to interact with people. He liked to have fun."
Huerta's case is the third death involving Durham police officers in recent months that the SBI is now reviewing.
Jose Adan Cruz Ocampo, 33, was fatally shot by Officer R.S. Mbuthia on July 27 after Mbuthia and other officers told him to drop a kitchen knife he had been holding. Witnesses later said Ocampo was trying to hand the knife to an officer when he was shot four times.
On Sept. 17, Derek Deandre Walker, 26, was fatally shot by Cpl. R.C. Swartz when Walker pointed a gun at officers after an hour-long standoff at CCB Plaza in downtown Durham. Walker was distraught over losing custody of his son, relatives said.