Vigil for dead Durham teen takes violent turn, several arrested

There was unrest in downtown Durham as violence erupted at what was billed as a peaceful vigil for Jesus Huerta.
December 18, 2013 9:00:00 PM PST
What was initially billed as a peaceful vigil for a 17 year old who died in the backseat of a Durham police car erupted in violence Thursday night as demonstrators faced off with police in riot gear firing tear gas. Several people were arrested.

About 150 to 200 people took part in the demonstration over the death of Jesus Huerta. Police say an officer placed the teen in the back of a patrol car November 19 after he was arrested on a second-degree trespassing charge. As the car pulled into the police department parking lot around 2:30 in the morning, the officer reported hearing a loud bang and he jumped out of the moving car, which then rolled into parked vehicles.

Police say Huerta shot himself in the head and the gun did not belong to a police officer. Where the weapon came from is still under investigation by the SBI. Police department standard procedure calls for prisoners to be searched before they're placed in a vehicle for transport.

Huerta's family and supporters say police haven't released enough information about what happened. At Thursday night's protest, some carried banners reading "Murdered By Police." The crowd marched from CCB Plaza downtown to police headquarters.

A similar protest there last month ended with arrests and broken windows and a damaged police car.

At Thursday night's march, protestors taunted police officers and screamed obscenities. The crowd then returned to CCB Plaza, where the scene turned chaotic as police said rocks, bottles, and other projectiles were thrown at them and they ordered protestors to disperse about an hour and a half after the march began.

Tear gas canisters were launched and riot police started pushing the crowd back. One officer could be seen pinning one of the demonstrators. One of the protestors told ABC11 that he saw authorities hitting his comrades holding a banner with night sticks.

"They didn't really look like batons or night sticks, but they were thinner and longer and they were reaching over the banner whacking people with them," said protester David Kaplan. "They were clearly upset with the fact that people were out expressing themselves and upset at the fact that it appears they murdered a 17-year-old child."

Durham Police Chief Jose Lopez said he would hold a news conference Friday morning on the march. However, he did release a statement Thursday evening.

"Our primary concern was to protect the public as well as the protesters. Some arrests were made and officers were forced to deploy tear gas to disperse the crowd after rocks and bottles were thrown at the police. Although this was billed as a peaceful event, several participants donned masks, committed vandalism, assaulted officers and failed to heed commands to disperse," said Lopez.

Before the chaos, there was a peaceful vigil just like the family of the teen affectionately known as "Chuy" originally intended.

"We weren't able to [at the vigil that ended in violence last month], so we're here again to do a peaceful and very calm vigil for us to actually light a candle for him in his memory," said Jesus' sister, Evelin Huerta. "Chuy is with us. My brother is always with us, and he will never leave our side."

"People can see that we actually support him and that we need justice for Durham because it's not fair that this is happening, like the police is not giving us answers," she continued.

Huerta's family members say they plan to hold a protest every month on the 19th.

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