Stolen goods found in Jesus Huerta's backpack, Durham police say

jwise@newsobserver.comJanuary 7, 2014 

  • Police under fire

    Jesus Huerta’s mysterious death in the back seat of a police cruiser is only the latest incident in a series of controversies that have developed around the Durham Police Department over the past 13 months:

    •  In December 2012, police arrested Carlos A. Riley Jr. for shooting a plainclothes officer during a traffic stop. Riley's supporters claim the officer accidentally shot himself, and that the stop was an unwarranted case of racial profiling. Riley's case has yet to come to court.

    •  In February 2013, Assistant Police Chief Winslow Forbes complained to city authorities that he had been passed over for promotion because he had objected to racist attitudes and actions by Police Chief Jose Lopez. After a city-hired consultant found his charges “not substantiated” in June Forbes filed a civil-rights complaint with the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. The complaint has not been resolved.

    • In July, an officer fatally shot Jose Adan Cruz Ocampo, 33. Initial police accounts conflicted with a death certificate which said Ocampo was killed while fleeing; and the Civil Litigation Clinic at N.C. Central University hired a private investigator after eyewitnesses said Ocampo was handing a knife to officers, hilt-first, when he was shot. Ocampo was a suspect in a non-fatal stabbing. Results of an SBI investigation have been reported to District Attorney Leon Stanback, but he has not released them to the public.

    •  In August, Lopez was accused of saying that a bystander wounded in a drive-by shooting deserved it because the bystander was a public defender. The bystander was not, in fact, a public defender, and Lopez later said he did not remember making the remark although “someone may have” and apologized.

    •  In September, an officer fatally shot Derek Deandre Walker, 26, who was pointing a gun at officers during an hour-long standoff at CCB Plaza. Results of an SBI investigation have been reported to Stanback, but he has not released them to the public.

    •  In September, complaints of profiling and other racist behavior by Durham police prompted Mayor Bill Bell to direct the city's Human Relations Commission to investigate. The commission began work in October, and its investigation is still ongoing.

    •  In December, police used tear gas to break up a memorial gathering for Huerta at CCB Plaza. The police claimed that officers acted only after some members of the crowd threw rocks and firecrackers at them, but some witnesses and participants said no objects were thrown and the gathering was peacefully disbanding when police acted.

    • A Taser-use case, filed by Bryan DeBaun against Officer Daniel J. Kuszaj and the city of Durham, has buoyed civil rights advocates and others fighting for more limits on the device. The North Carolina Supreme Court issued an order on Dec. 18 that remands the DeBaun case to the N.C. Court of Appeals for reconsideration as to whether the Durham Police Department’s excessive-force policy violates the state constitution.

— A police investigator found stolen electronic equipment in a backpack carried by 17-year-old Jesus Huerta, who died in custody Nov. 19.

The backpack also contained jewelry, according to a search warrant released Tuesday.

Information on the backpack’s contents was contained in a probable cause statement asking for permission to search a cell phone in Huerta’s possession at the time of his arrest.

Huerta died from a self-inflicted gunshot wound to his head while handcuffed in the back seat of a police cruiser, according to police. He had been arrested on an outstanding warrant for trespassing after his family asked police to watch for him after he walked away from home following an argument.

According to the warrant, the backpack and cell phone were seized as evidence at the scene of Huerta’s death, in the Durham Police Headquarters parking lot. Officer J.E. Barr went through the backpack contents Dec. 31 and found the jewelry and electronic equipment. Serial numbers on the electronics matched those of items stolen Nov. 14 from a residence on Haverford Street.

Three other, unsolved break-ins in the same area, near Huerta’s home on Washington Street, “were committed in the same manner” as that on Haverford Street, the warrant states.

In the warrant, Barr states he wants to search the cell phone because “pictures and other digital evidence may be contained in cell phones that link a suspect(s) to a crime.”

Barr applied for the warrant Monday, but, according to documents released with it, the warrant inadvertently included a provision to seal it for 90 days “to protect the ongoing SBI investigation.” The Durham District Attorney’s office requested that it be unsealed after a magistrate questioned the provision for sealing.

Durham Mayor Bill Bell said Monday that the city will release findings of the Police Department’s internal investigation into Huerta’s death this week.

Huerta’s family has requested a federal investigation into the teenager’s death and general policies and procedures of the Durham police.

Wise: 919-641-5895

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