Durham district attorney will not file charges in shooting death of 17-year-old Jesus Huerta

The Durham County District Attorney's office said Tuesday that is has reviewed a report from the SBI.
January 13, 2014 9:00:00 PM PST
Durham County District Attorney A. Leon Stanback said Tuesday that he has reviewed a report from the SBI on the shooting death of 17-year-old Jesus Huerta and will not be filing any charges in the case.

Stanback told reporters at a news conference in front of the Durham Courthouse that after looking at the SBI report along with the Chief Medical Examiner's report, and results from the North Carolina State Crime Lab, that there is not probable cause that a crime occurred.

Huerta was arrested by Durham police Nov. 19. His family had called to report he had run away. When officers found him, they discovered an outstanding arrest warrant for a second-degree trespassing charge and decided to take him into custody.

Huerta was placed in the back of a squad car and taken to police headquarters. But as the car pulled into the parking lot around 2:30 a.m., the officer driving reported hearing a loud bang and he jumped out of the moving car, which then rolled into parked vehicles.

Huerta was found dead of a gunshot wound in the back of the cruiser. Police have said it was an apparent suicide, but there were immediate questions about how the teen got the gun and how he could shoot himself if his hands were cuffed behind him. Department policy requires prisoners to be searched before they're transported.

In a statement released after Stanback's news conference, Huerta's family said it would not comment on Stanback's decision not to file charges.

Attorney Alexander Charns did question why the SBI did not consult with the Huerta family before completing its report.

"We do know that despite an SBI promise to the Huerta family to consult with them about what they might contribute before finishing its report, the SBI did not do so," said Charns.

Charns said the family is conducting its own investigation.

Late Tuesday, the City of Durham responded to the decision not to file criminal charges.

"The City is pleased that the District Attorney's Office has completed its review of the SBI and Medical Examiners Reports in the death of Jesus Huerta and concluded not to file criminal charges," said Durham City Manager Tom Bonfield in a statement. "I am calling on the Police Department to complete its Internal Affairs Report as quickly as possible, and will continue to correspond with City Council to determine what aspects of the IA Report should be made public to maintain confidence and trust in the Police Department.

"Our condolences and sympathy continue to go out to the Huerta family at this difficult time as they continue to grieve their loved one."

The Durham Police Department released a preliminary internal affairs report last week in which it said it has concluded Huerta had a semi-automatic .45 caliber pistol hidden on his person. The gun was not found by Officer Samuel Duncan who said he searched the teen after he was handcuffed and before he was placed in the back of the patrol car.

Police said Officer Duncan also searched the car at the beginning of his shift and Huerta was the first prisoner he put there that day. Investigators also said gunshot residue tests showed Huerta fired a gun and Officer Duncan did not. Witnesses said Huerta had moved his hands from behind his back to a position behind his knees.

Last week, Huerta's family said the Durham Police Department's internal affairs report "glossed over" statements from Huerta's friend who was arrested at the same time. That friend said neither he nor Huerta had a weapon. It also claims officers failed to adequately protect the troubled teen from himself.

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

A peaceful vigil for Huerta is set for Jan. 19 at Immaculate Conception Church starting at 6:45 p.m. The public is welcome to attend.

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