Durham police: Teen who died in squad car had gunshot residue on hands


According to police, Jesus Huerta was arrested November 19 on a second-degree trespassing charge. He was placed in the back of a patrol car and taken to police headquarters. As the car pulled into the parking lot around 2:30 in the morning, the officer driving 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. Lopez said Friday that a SBI gunshot residue test performed on Huerta's gloves after his death shows he fired a gun. A similar test on the hands of the officer who was driving the car showed he had not recently fired a gun.

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.

An attorney for the Huerta family said Friday that Lopez's comments about the gunshot residue testing "only adds to the mysterious circumstances" of the teen's death.

"Where are the lab reports concerning the GSR tests? Where are the photographs of the gloves so the family can see them and determine if they were Jesús' gloves or gloves they've ever seen before? Where are the results for the DNA testing of the inside of the gloves to determine who had worn or touched the gloves?"asked attorney M. Alexander Charns.

At his news conference Friday, Lopez also addressed his department's response to a vigil held Thursday night by Huerta's family and roughly 150 - 200 supporters. The family said the event was intended to be peaceful, but it turned violent as demonstrators faced off with police in riot gear firing tear gas. Six people were arrested.

In a statement issued Friday, the group Presente.org characterized the police response as overly aggressive.

"Durham Police's use of tear gas and smoke grenades to disperse a peaceful assembly of residents commemorating a teen's death shows worrisome, coordinated aggression against a community searching for answers," offered Presente Executive Director Arturo Carmona.

But Lopez told reporters Friday that his officers "used a whole lot of restraint in addressing that situation."

Lopez said while the Huerta family obviously intended a peaceful candlelight vigil, others in the group clearly came prepared for confrontation. He said they showed up wearing masks, carried backpacks, and were seen gathering rocks.

The protest began at CCB Plaza downtown and then moved to police headquarters. Some carried banners reading "Murdered By Police." Many in the crowd 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 and smoke grenades were launched and riot police started pushing the crowd back while taking several people into custody.

Lopez said Friday that his officers used "best law enforcement practices" to "minimize injury."

Those arrested included:

  • Andy Guadalupe Mendoza, 18, of Berkeley Street - Failure to disperse on command and resisting
  • Gustavo Pascual Gutierrez, 22, of Angier Avenue one count of trespassing (DPD HQ)
  • Benjamin Colt Markgraft, 20, of Rougemont Road carrying a concealed weapon (switchblade), disorderly conduct and impeding traffic
  • Vianey Fuentes, 17, of Great Bend Drive - Failure to disperse on command and resisting
  • Perla Eliza Fuentes, 16, of Tremont Drive - Failure to disperse on command and resisting
  • A 15-year-old juvenile female

A similar protest last month ended with broken windows and a damaged police car at Durham Police Headquarters.

Meanwhile, Huerta's family is refusing to stand down. They say they will keep fighting for answers about his death.  

They say they walked from City Plaza to Durham Police Headquarters and had begun to pray and light candles when they say things first turned ugly.

"The police in riot gear had already formed a line," said Yolanda Carrington, a Huerta family supporter. "They had their batons drawn before we got there."

Protestors say they marched peacefully but Lopez says his officers saw some with black masks and backpacks gathering rocks and they lobbed them once the crowd made it back to the plaza.

"Let me make that clear! No one threw anything at the police that I saw," said Carrington.

Huerta's family says they are still seeking justice and what happened during the vigil made matters worse.

"We will not stand down. We will keep fighting. We will be here for him," said Jesus' sister, Evelin Huerta. "We will not let anybody disrespect my brother's memory."

Lopez did not give an estimate on when the SBI investigation into Huerta's death might be complete. The family and its supporters are calling for a federal probe of the incident.

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

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