Durham police set to release Huerta death report Friday

jwise@newsobserver.comJanuary 9, 2014 

— The Durham Police Department’s report on Jesus Huerta’s death while in a police cruiser will be released Friday afternoon, City Manager Tom Bonfield said Thursday.

Police spokeswoman Kammie Michael said the report will be a “synopsis of the preliminary findings” from the department’s internal investigation.

Huerta died Nov. 19 from a gunshot wound to the head while he was handcuffed in the back seat of a police cruiser in the police headquarters parking lot.

Police Chief Jose L. Lopez has said the gunshot appeared to have been self-inflicted and that investigators found gunpowder residue on gloves Huerta was wearing.

Lack of further details, including just how a handcuffed person who had been searched could have had access to a firearm, has led to public skepticism and put pressure on the police from residents and city officials, including Mayor Bill Bell, to release full information.

“It’s just hard to explain. None of the story makes any sense,” said businessman Dan Hill, a former city councilman.

“A man gets shot ... when he’s got handcuffs on … the community is outraged,” said Melvin Whitley, a minister and neighborhood organizer. “You just scratch your head.”

Huerta’s family has petitioned the FBI for a federal investigation of the death and the Durham department’s general policies and procedures.

Huerta, a Riverside High School student, was arrested on an outstanding trespassing charge after his family called 911 for help locating him.

A recording of the 911 call indicates that a sister called on her mother’s behalf and said Huerta left the house because his mother had caught him using drugs. The caller, whose name is not revealed, said the family was worried because he once “tried to take his life,” according to the 911 recording.

The State Bureau of Investigation has conducted its own inquiry into Huerta’s death. Noelle Talley of the state Attorney General’s office said the SBI report is complete and has been delivered to Durham District Attorney Leon Stanback.

A state medical examiner’s report on Huerta’s death has not been finished, though, and Stanback said last week he will not release the SBI findings or decide on any action in regard to the death before receiving the medical examiner’s results.

Wise: 919-641-5895

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