DURHAM — The family of the teen who died in the backseat of a Durham police car this fall is upset that a memorial to him at Durham Police Department headquarters was taken down without notice.
The memorial which consisted of five handmade wooden crosses, pictures, a rosary and flowers was placed on the curb at the edge of the parking lot where Jesus Huerta died on Nov. 19. Police say Huerta, 17, shot himself, even though his hands were handcuffed behind his back and he was not known to be carrying a gun.
Huertas mother, Sylvia Fernandez, placed flowers on the memorial on Christmas Day. When she returned on Dec. 30, the memorial was gone.
The next day, New Years Eve, the police department issued a statement explaining why.
The memorial for Mr. Huerta was allowed to be placed in the police department parking lot as a courtesy to his family, the statement read. However, it was not our intent to allow it to remain indefinitely. The memorial was removed by department staff over the weekend after it was allowed to remain on site for slightly more than a week.
Fernandezs oldest son, Raziel Huerta, 27, of Durham, said his mother cant understand why police destroyed the memorial.
They just picked everything up and threw it in the trash, Raziel Huerta said. They could have at least emailed our lawyer and asked us to remove it.
Among the items in the memorial was a wooden cross made by Fernandezs 11-year-old son, who painted the cross and then put Jesuss name on it.
They threw it away, Raziel Huerta said. It was rude and disrespectful. I drive all over Raleigh and Durham and see places where, when someone passes away, you got flowers, you got balloons and no one touches it. It was something where we could at least go and take flowers where he passed away.
Durham Mayor Bill Bell said he learned Thursday that police had removed the memorial. He said he did not recall receiving any complaints about it being cleared away.
Really, thats something between the police and the family, Bell said.
The death of Jesus Huerta has been the source of considerable controversy, questions and protest, including two marches in downtown Durham that have led to objects being thrown at police, windows shattered, police lobbing canisters of tear gas and arrests.
Huerta a sophomore at Riverside High School, was found shot dead while handcuffed in the back of a patrol car just before 3 a.m. after an officer had picked him up on a trespassing charge. Huertas family had called police because he had left home around 2 a.m. against his mothers wishes and she worried for his safety.
Durham Police Chief Jose Lopez said it appeared Huerta shot himself in the head with a gun that was not the officers. Lopez said the State Bureau of Investigation has confirmed Huerta was wearing gloves and that the gloves had gunpowder residue on them.
Raziel Huerta said he never saw his younger brother wear a pair of gloves. He said his brother typically eschewed winter coats and would often wear a winter vest, T-shirt and shorts on days when the temperature was in the 40s.
Mom would always tell him, You need to put on a jacket, you need to put on a jacket, he said. The police havent shown us the gloves he was supposed to be wearing. They havent shown us anything. We need proof.