Internal affairs report on shooting of teen Jesus Huerta in Durham police custody released

Police say teen in the back of a police car managed to get a gun and shoot himself, but the family still has questions.
January 10, 2014 8:21:50 PM PST
The autopsy for 17-year-old Jesus Huerta has been released. The medical examiner revealed Huerta's probable cause of death is a gunshot wound to the face. The medical examiner say the shot was fired at close range.

Friday, the Durham Police Department also released its preliminary internal affairs report on Huerta's shooting while in police custody. It said it has concluded the teen shot himself with a gun he had hidden on his person.

? Click here to see the full report. ?

At a news conference, Internal Affairs Captain Laura Clayton said the case began when Huerta's family called Nov. 19 to report him as a runaway.

Clayton said Huerta's sister told police that he had attempted suicide in the past, but Clayton said that information was not communicated to officers looking for him.

After police spoke with Huerta's mother at her home, officers later located the teen with a friend at Washington and Green streets. While speaking with the boy, officers checked records and discovered an outstanding arrest warrant for a second-degree trespassing charge.

Police decided to take Huerta into custody, and Officer Samuel Duncan handcuffed him behind his back. Both Duncan and another officer present said Duncan searched Huerta's pockets and frisked him before placing him in the back of a police car. Duncan also said the car was checked to be empty at the beginning of his shift and Huerta was the first prisoner placed in the car on his shift. Huerta was wearing white baseball-style gloves on his hands. He was allowed to keep them on.

While Huerta was in the backseat of the car, he was seen to be moving his hands from behind his back to a position behind his knees. Huerta was temporarily taken out of the car and told to reposition his hands.

Officer Duncan next headed to Durham Police Headquarters to pick up the warrant for Huerta's arrest. Clayton said it is a distance of about a mile and would have taken about three minutes. Clayton said an in-car camera system in Duncan's car had stopped recording while the car was stopped and Duncan did not log back into the system when he began driving - which would have switched it on again.

During the drive, Duncan said he could hear metal scrabbling against the hard plastic of the seat and assumed Huerta was trying to possibly get rid of drugs he might be carrying. Duncan said he planned to search Huerta again when he arrived.

As Duncan's car pulled into the parking lot around 2:30 a.m., he reported hearing a loud bang and he jumped out of the moving car, which then rolled into parked vehicles.

Duncan then radioed "shots fired" and told another officer in the parking lot that his prisoner was shooting at him.

Both men then approached the car with their weapons drawn and found Huerta slumped over in the backseat. He was dead of a gunshot wound to the head and a black semi-automatic .45 caliber handgun was found lying on the seat beside him.

Clayton said investigators found gunshot residue on the gloves Huerta was wearing, and not on Officer Duncan's hands.

She also said the weapon was traced by the ATF to a pawn shop in Commerce, Ga. that last reported having it in 1991. There is no record of where it was after that. She said the shop did not comply with federal gun reporting laws.

Clayton said because the police car was searched before Huerta was put in it, the department has concluded he shot himself with a gun that he had on his person.

She said the investigation continues and the department's procedures for transporting prisoners and use of in-car cameras are under review.

Huerta family attorney Alexander Charns released a statement to ABC11 after seeing the internal affairs report Friday.

He said he wants to know if Huerta's friend - who was interviewed by police - reported that he was armed.

"This DPD 'Update on Preliminary Findings' is, to paraphrase Winston Churchill, a whitewash wrapped in a cover-up and basted in denial. The tiny truths in there are intertwined with half-truths and misdirection, the facts are not readily identifiable. The chief's shell game with the facts continues," said Charns.

Police Chief Jose Lopez did not participate in Friday's news conference.

Charns said Huerta's family member doubt he had a gun on him. They say the police's information conjures up more questions than it resolves.

"He was frisked and found to have no gun. The gun most likely was in the back seat when Chuy was placed there," he charged.

"He was taken away by the action of the police by not following proper procedures," said Jaime Huerta, Jesus Huerta's sister.

A search warrant for the backpack Huerta had with him when he was arrested was made public earlier this week. It states detectives found jewelry and electronics in the pack that were taken in a series of residential break-ins from homes near Huerta's Washington Street address.

The stolen goods have been connected to a home break-in a few nights earlier on Haverford Street. The warrant also says the Haverford Street break-in was similar to three other November burglaries, which were all within blocks of each other.

Doubt and suspicion over trickling details in the Huerta case have prompted two violent street protests. One resulted in damaged police property. The other ended with officers in riot gear spraying tear gas.

Durham Mayor Bill Bell chimed in on reaction to the report, and his take on what police released Friday.

"There are probably people who still question them, but what we've tried to do is be as transparent and open as possible -- when I say we: the city council - through the city council and the police department," said Bell.

Bell acknowledged that the city's decision to release the report would do little to quell some doubts.

"We didn't want to rush to judgment because this is a very serious matter," said Bell. "The fact of the matter is that a person lost his life."

A report from the SBI on the case is still in the hands of the Durham County Prosecutor's office.

The NAACP and other organizations have called for city leaders to get involved.

See It On TV | Report A Typo |  Send Tip |  Get Alerts | Send us photos
Follow @abc11 on Twitter  |  Become a fan on Facebook


Load Comments