Arrested teen dies in Durham police headquarters parking lot

tmcdonald@newsobserver.comNovember 19, 2013 

EDITOR'S NOTE: The job title of Durham public schools spokeswoman Chrissy Pearson was misidentified. Correction made at 4:20 p.m. Wednesday, Nov. 20, 2013.

DURHAM -- A Durham police officer drove into the parking lot at police headquarters early Tuesday morning with a 17-year-old high school student in the backseat of his patrol car that he intended to charge with trespassing.

The officer, Samuel A.M. Duncan, suddenly jumped out of the car, leaving it to roll into a van in the parking lot. The student, Jesus Huerta, was found dead in the backseat.

At a press conference later Tuesday morning, Durham Police Chief Jose Lopez offered few details about what happened before the death. He said Duncan left the car because he heard a loud noise. He said police don’t know how Huerta died.

Huerta is the third person to die after an encounter with the Durham Police Department this year. As with the other two cases, the State Bureau of Investigation is investigating.

Police have not said where Huerta was arrested or why. He was to be charged with second-degree trespassing and was being brought to police headquarters on East Chapel Hill Street shortly before 3 a.m., Lopez said at a news conference.

Lopez did not answer questions about what caused the noise Duncan said he heard, but said, “It does not appear any Durham police officer fired a weapon during the incident.” He gave no indication of whether police had reason to believe someone else fired a weapon.

Lopez said Huerta’s body had been sent to the state medical examiner’s office to determine how he died.

Duncan was hired by the Durham Police Department on July 16, 2012. He has been placed on paid administrative leave, which Lopez described as standard procedure.

Lopez declined to answer any questions after reading a statement at the news conference. He said that in addition to the SBI, the Durham Police Department’s homicide unit and professional standards division are conducting their own investigations.

“I want to reassure the community that this incident is being thoroughly and completely investigated in an effort to determine exactly what happened,” Lopez said. “Our thoughts and prayers are with the Huerta family at this very difficult time.”

Huerta was a 10th-grader at Riverside High School in Durham. Last year, he was a student at Jordan High School, said Durham public schools spokeswoman Chrissy Pearson.

Pearson said grief counselors were available to support Riverside High students and staff.

“It’s been a shock for them,” she said.

Huerta had previous encounters with police, but no criminal convictions. Last December, he was charged with second-degree trespassing, and in June he was charged with possession with intent to sell and deliver marijuana. In both cases, the charges were dismissed, state records show.

Huerta’s family could not be reached for comment Tuesday.

The SBI is investigating two other deaths involving Durham police officers.

On July 27, Jose Adan Cruz Ocampo, 33, was fatally shot by officer R.S. Mbuthia after Mbuthia and other officers told him to drop a kitchen knife he held. Witnesses later said Ocampo was holding the knife out, handle first, to an officer when he was shot four times.

Ocampo was a suspect in a stabbing earlier that day. The stabbing was not fatal.

On Sept. 17, Derek Deandre Walker, 26, was fatally shot by Cpl. R.C. Swartz when Walker pointed a gun at officers after an hourlong standoff at CCB Plaza in downtown Durham. During the standoff, hostage negotiators had talked to Walker, who was distraught over losing a custody battle over his young son.

Another police shooting has sparked charges of racial profiling in Durham. Carlos Riley Jr., 22, is accused of shooting plainclothes Officer Kelly Stewart in the leg during a traffic stop on Dec. 18. Riley’s supporters claim Stewart shot himself and that the traffic stop was unwarranted.

The case has yet to come to trial, but it has added to complaints of racism and profiling by Durham police that led Mayor Bill Bell to order an investigation by the city’s Human Relations Commission. The investigation is ongoing.

Staff writers Jim Wise, Ron Gallagher and news researcher Peggy Neal contributed to this report.

McDonald: 919-829-4533

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