Local News

Family wants FBI probe of Durham PD after teen's death

Posted December 10, 2013 5:03 a.m. EST
Updated December 10, 2013 7:40 p.m. EST

— The family of a 17-year-old who died while in police custody last month delivered to a local FBI office in Cary Tuesday a petition with more than 18,000 signatures demanding a federal investigation into the Durham Police Department.

Jesus Huerta died in the back of a police cruiser on the morning of Nov. 19 after being picked up on an outstanding second-degree trespassing charge from July.

His family and family representatives met with the FBI to ask that the U.S. Department of Justice investigate Huerta's death and possible "patterns and practices" of civil rights violations within the department.

"(The petition is) not just for investigating the death of the teenager Jesus Huerta," said Erica Scott Pacheco, a representative with Presente.org, an organization that represents the interests of Latino communities across the nation. "It's calling on justice for everyone here in Durham."

FBI spokeswoman Shelley Lynch said in a statement that the agency "takes accusations of civil rights violations very seriously. The FBI will review the information provided by the Huerta family."

The State Bureau of Investigation is already looking into the circumstances of Huerta's death, and an internal police review is also underway.

Durham Police Chief Jose Lopez declined an interview Tuesday about the petition but said in a statement that his department has been "as forthcoming as we possibly can with respect to the information that can be released to the public."

He has previously said that he will provide more information about what happened once the SBI's investigation is complete.

"The family has the right to make such a request, and we respect that right," he said. "We are cooperating fully with the current independent investigation, and we will do likewise if there is a federal investigation."

Huerta's sister, Evelin Huerta, said the police chief offered last week to meet privately with Huerta's mother, but she declined because she didn't feel comfortable being alone with police after her son's death.

"We're here together, and if he didn't want to talk to all of us, he wasn't going to meet with any of us," Evelin Huerta said.

A police spokeswoman confirmed that Lopez reached out to the family but declined to comment further on the invitation.

State and local authorities won't comment on how Jesus Huerta died, saying only that they are awaiting the results of an autopsy and that it did not appear to be the result of an officer-involved shooting.

Recordings of radio traffic between an officer and police dispatch, however, indicate shots were fired and that there was a gunshot wound. Huerta's family says a state investigator told them he had been shot in the head.

His death is the third since July involving a Durham police officer.

Derek Deandre Walker, 26, was killed in September when he pointed a gun at officers after an hour-long standoff in downtown Durham.

Jose Adan Cruz Ocampo, 33, was fatally shot July 27 during a standoff with police, who say he came at them with a knife.

Durham County prosecutors received an SBI report into Ocampo's case on Monday and said Tuesday that they are thoroughly reviewing the findings to determine if any criminal charges should be filed in the case.