Durham police still have explaining to do in Huerta's death

January 14, 2014 

It seems so improbable. A young man is handcuffed behind his back in a Durham police car, having been detained and searched. Then the young man manages to shoot himself in the head. Jesus Huerta, 17, died.

Ever since the Nov. 19 incident, Durham police have grappled with how to explain it and how much to say. Under pressure from civic leaders, including Mayor Bill Bell, to make public findings of its investigation, the department has still left the incident murky.

Durham County District Attorney Leon Stanback said Tuesday that there will be no criminal charges brought in the case. But the finding of no apparent criminal conduct does not explain lapses in police procedures. How, for instance, did a search miss the gun? Was the arresting officer aware that Huerta might have been suicidal?

In recordings of police communications that night, there are indications that police were aware that Huerta’s family believed he needed to be committed.

Huerta’s arrest came about after his family called 911 to get help finding him, and the youth was picked up on an outstanding trespassing charge.

Bell said he was satisfied thus far, “considering that there are other investigations going on.”

Stanback said there would be no charges after reviewing a report on the shooting compiled by the State Bureau of Investigation. However, the police department’s internal investigation is ongoing.

The city should also review the way Durham police handled their obligation to the public. It has been confusing and entirely unsatisfactory.

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