Durham DA: No criminal charges in Jesus Huerta case

jwise@newsobserver.comJanuary 14, 2014 

— No criminal charges will be brought in the case of Jesus Huerta, the Durham teenager who died from a gunshot wound while handcuffed in the back of a police car last fall, the Durham County district attorney announced Tuesday.

“After having received and reviewed the complete State Bureau of Investigation file, the chief medical examiner’s report, relevant North Carolina State Crime Laboratory reports, physical evidence, and forensic photographs, the Durham County District Attorney has found that there is not probable cause to charge a crime in Jesus Huerta’s death,” District Attorney Leon Stanback read from a statement outside the Durham County Courthouse.

“Our condolences go to the grieving family and friends of Jesus Huerta,” he continued.

The Huerta family had no comment on Stanback’s decision, according to a statement issued on their behalf by Durham attorney Alex Charns.

“We have not seen the SBI report, so we can’t know how the investigation was conducted, what evidence they followed and what evidence was not pursued,” the statement read.

“We do know that despite an SBI promise to the Huerta family to consult with them about what they might contribute before finishing its report, the SBI did not do so,” the family statement continued.

Though the district attorney’s office answered family questions during the investigation, “The SBI ... failed to return a phone call,” the statement said.

After issuing the statement, Charns said the family would have no further comment Tuesday. Stanback said he does not intend to make the SBI report public, but the Huerta family would have access to it.

“We’ll let the attorney for the family review it and do whatever he wants to with it,” Stanback said. Charns said the family has made no decisions on what it will do with the SBI report.

The SBI gave its report to Stanback last week, according to spokeswoman Noelle Talley.

Huerta died in police custody Nov. 19, from a gunshot wound police have said was self-inflicted. The bullet traveled up, leaving holes in Huerta’s jacket, grazed his lower lip and perforated his skull, according to an autopsy report.

Police recovered a bullet from the car’s roof, near the partition between the front and back seats, according to the autopsy.

Officer didn’t see gun

At a news conference last week, Durham police officials said Officer Samuel Duncan, who searched Huerta after he arrested him on a trespassing charge the night his family reported him missing, did not find the .45-caliber gun the teen used to shoot himself.

Durham Mayor Bill Bell, who has pressed the police and SBI for weeks to release more information on Huerta’s death, said Stanback’s statement “is sort of confirming what the others have said” about the way Huerta died.

But, the mayor noted, the police internal investigation is not finished.

“The police still have to figure out what their position is going to be relative to the officer,” Bell said. “That still has to be dealt with.

“I know that’s a personnel issue, but somehow I think the public’s got to be made aware of what actions they take on that,” he said.

City Manager Tom Bonfield late Tuesday called on the department to complete its investigation quickly and said he and the City Council would determine what parts of the report to make public “to maintain confidence and trust in the police department.”

Police have said they are investigating several possible violations of department policy, including rules for handling and transporting suspects and running a video camera in an active patrol car.

Duncan remains on administrative duty, according to police spokeswoman Kammie Michael.

Wise: 919-641-5895

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