DURHAM — On Thanksgiving eve, Jesus Huerta’s family looked at a picture of the teen that was taken during the same holiday a year ago.
“Then a week before Thanksgiving, this happens,” said Huerta’s older brother, Raziel Huerta. “It’s pretty rough.”
The family held a memorial service for the 17-year-old Tuesday at the Immaculate Conception Catholic Church at 810 W. Chapel Hill St., about three blocks from where he died of a gunshot wound in the backseat of a police car that had just pulled into the police headquarters parking lot in the predawn hours of Nov. 19.
Thursday marked the Huerta family’s first holiday without Jesus. The family called 911 to protect the high school student. Now they say they are wary and even fearful of officers, and they are demanding justice for their loved one.
“God give us strength to keep going forward and to ask for justice,” Jesus Huerta’s older sister, Evelin Huerta, wrote in Spanish on her Facebook page.
But the family also struggled with the teen’s absence on Thanksgiving.
“Uggg:-(:-(:-(,” Evelin Huerta wrote on her Facebook page Thanksgiving morning. “Feeling sad.”
Wednesday night, Raziel Huerta said his family usually comes together for Thanksgiving.
“This year, everybody(’s) feeling like we’re moving on. We’re taking it as a normal day. But it’s not right,” he said. “Thanksgiving dinner? No. I don’t think so.”
Evelin Huerta confirmed Thursday what her brother said the night before.
“Well, what my brother is saying is true,” she said. “We will not be celebrating (the) holidays.”
Jesus Huerta’s family members feel the police are to blame for his death.
“No thanks to the police, we could have my brother here with us,” Evelin Huerta said Thursday. “Instead, we are grieving him.”
Family called police
Police considered Jesus “Chuy” Huerta, a 10th-grader at Riverside High School, a runaway when he walked out of his mother’s apartment just before 2 a.m. on Nov. 19. His older sister called 911 and told an emergency dispatcher that her mother caught her brother “using drugs” before her brother stormed out of the family’s red-brick apartment in the 1200 block of Washington Street.
Jesus Huerta was picked up by rookie officer Samuel A.M. Duncan shortly before 3 a.m. at the intersection of Washington and Trinity streets, about two blocks from where the teen lived.
Police Chief Jose Lopez said Duncan intended to charge the teen with second-degree trespassing. Duncan’s patrol car was in the parking lot at police headquarters in the 500 block of West Chapel Hill Street just before 3 a.m. when the officer reported hearing a loud noise from the backseat and jumped from the car.
A police officer, presumably Duncan, radioed emergency dispatchers to report “shots fired” in the headquarters’ parking lot. The officer then asked for medical assistance for a gunshot wound for an “approximately 18-year-old male, not breathing,” according to a copy of a 911 recording made public by the police.
Lopez turned the investigation over the State Bureau of Investigation, which is standard procedure in an officer-involved shooting.
But the teen’s death resulted in a march one week ago in downtown Durham, where residents and the teenager’s family gathered to protest the police department’s silence on the incident. The demonstration turned ugly when the crowd swelled to about 200 and a group dressed in black hooded sweatshirts and ski masks joined in. Several windows were cracked on the police headquarters building, and a window was shattered in a police car. Some demonstrators tossed firecrackers at the police.
“I was very grateful for all the people who came out, but I’m not happy about some of the people’s reactions,” Evelin Huerta said after the protest.
“It was going well until we reached headquarters,” she said. “(Supporters) were supposed to come in peace to show that we support the community, not rip up the place.”
Weapon raises questions
At 25, Duncan is a rookie officer who graduated from the Durham Police Department’s Basic Law Enforcement Training Academy on Feb. 5 after 26 weeks of training, police spokeswoman Kammie Michael reported this week.
After graduation from the academy, police recruits are accompanied in their patrol cars by a senior police training officer. Michael would not say how long Duncan was accompanied in his patrol vehicle by a police training officer, but she said that part of the training usually lasts “several months.”
During a news conference immediately after Huerta’s death, Lopez emphasized that neither Duncan nor any other officer fired a weapon. However, police procedures dictate that Jesus Huerta should have been searched for a weapon before he was put in the cruiser.
According to a general order issued by the Durham Police Department in 2005, anyone taken into custody must be searched for weapons or contraband before being placed into a police car. The arresting officer is also required to handcuff suspects “behind the back and the handcuffs will be double-locked,” according to the order.
The order requires officers to search their patrol cars before and after transporting prisoners, and at the beginning and end of their work shifts.
Duncan could have issued a citation to Huerta instead of taking him to police headquarters to obtain an arrest warrant, according to police department policy. The policy states that “officers are encouraged” to use alternatives to arrest for misdemeanors “where there is no danger to persons or property and where the suspect has an identifiable address within a reasonable distance.”
Second-degree trespassing is a class 3 misdemeanor, the lowest level misdemeanor, which is punishable by a maximum $200 fine, community punishment and one to 10 days in jail, according to state statutes.
Sylvia Fernandez asked one of her daughters to call 911 so that the police could bring Jesus home.
“Now she doesn’t feel safe anymore,” Evelin Huerta said Thursday about her mother. “If she knew all this was going to happen, she would have never picked up the phone.”