Vigil, march Sunday as questions remain on Huerta death

jwise@newsobserver.comJanuary 17, 2014 

  • Events this month

    • A prayer vigil to honor the life of Jesus Huerta will be held at 6:45 p.m. Sunday in the main sanctuary of Immaculate Conception Catholic Church, 810 W. Chapel Hill St., Durham. For information, call Marcia Owen, 919-358-1113.

    • The Religious Coalition for a Nonviolent Durham will hold a community luncheon roundtable with “an open discussion of peacemaking in Durham” from noon to 1 p.m. Thursday at Shepherds House United Methodist Church, 107 N. Driver St., Durham. Lunch will be provided. All are welcome. For information, call Marcia Owen, 919-358-1113.

    • Durham County Library will host “Violence in Durham: What Can We Do?” a two-part series for adults and adolescents, beginning at noon Saturday, Jan. 25, at the Main Library, 300 N. Roxboro St. The forum will focus on gun safety, gun violence and suicide prevention. The second program, at 3 p.m. Sunday, Jan. 26, features Simon Partner, author of “Bull City Survivor: Standing Up to a Hard Life in a Southern City,” which explores gun violence in Durham.

  • Huerta funeral fund

    El Centro Hispano has started a fund to help the Huerta family with funeral expenses. Tax-deductible donations, marked FOR HUERTA FAMILY, may be made in person or by mail at El Centro Hispano: 600 E. Main St., Durham, NC 27701, or through El Centro Hispano’s website: elcentronc.org.

— A prayer vigil to honor Jesus Huerta, the teenager who died in police custody Nov. 19, will be held Sunday at Immaculate Conception Catholic Church.

The vigil is sponsored by Huerta’s family, the church and community organizations.

A separate event has been announced by the organizers of two earlier Huerta protests that turned violent. A "Justice for Chuy" march against police behavior is scheduled to form at 5:30 p.m. Sunday and end at the church in time for the vigil.

An announcement of the march advised those coming, “Bring your anger, your solidarity, your fierceness and your passion.”

Gathering place for marchers was announced as the Immaculate Conception parking lot, but Father Bill McIntyre, one of the church's clergy, said he has asked the organizers to meet elsewhere and was told they would.

"Recently we became aware of another march to or from the vigil," McIntyre said in a formal statement. "The parish, (vigil) organizers and the Huerta family are not participating in this other event. No organizers asked for nor received permission to use church property to gather.

"Lord Make Me An Instrument of Your Peace!"

Durham police this week released their report on the Dec. 19 protest, in which officers used tear gas to disperse marchers from CCB Plaza. It concluded that police used “a minimal amount of force” and only after “protesters demonstrated assaultive behavior approaching the level of deadly force against officers and bystanders.”

The report capped a week of new developments in the case.

Durham County District Attorney Leon Stanback announced that the State Bureau of Investigation’s report on Huerta’s death provided no probable cause for criminal charges.

But the Durham Police Department’s internal investigation continues, and Huerta family attorney Alex Charns said the family has questions it wants answered.

“We have an item, an area of inquiry, upon which we will ask the SBI to follow up,” Charns said Wednesday. “It is an investigative avenue that we want pursued.”

‘Not searched well’

Charns would not say what that avenue is but said he was pleased by an announcement from the state Attorney General’s office that SBI agents are available to meet with the Huerta family, and with Stanback’s office, if asked.

Stanback, though, said his office is done with the matter. “We don’t deal with anything other than criminal charges,” he said.

Charns and City Manager Tom Bonfield have declined to comment on possible civil action, and police have said they are still investigating possible policy violations by Officer Samuel Duncan, who arrested Huerta on an outstanding trespassing warrant.

Duncan did not have his patrol car’s interior video camera running at the time of Huerta’s death, which police policy requires.

Huerta was “not searched well and had a gun concealed,” Police Chief Jose L. Lopez wrote in a text message to Bonfield at 3:32 a.m. Nov. 19, about 30 minutes after Huerta was found dead in Duncan’s car and a .45-caliber semiautomatic handgun was found on the car’s rear floorboard.

Police investigators who released preliminary findings from the internal investigation Jan. 10 described Duncan’s search of Huerta as “cursory … a frisk.”

What police knew

Huerta’s family members remain skeptical of the police conclusion that Huerta had the gun when he was arrested, though police say Duncan had searched the car before going on patrol and found no weapon.

The family and Charns said police should have been more careful in their treatment of Huerta because they had been told he was a suicide risk.

Huerta’s sister called 911 to ask for help finding her brother, who left home that night after a confrontation with his mother over his drug use. The sister told the 911 dispatcher that Huerta previously tried to kill himself.

Police said that information was not relayed to officers on patrol, and recordings of police communications show that officers considered him only a runaway, not “at risk.”

However, those communications also include comments that Huerta’s mother might be planning to have him committed because he had “a real problem with taking pills and smoking and stuff.”

Reports of SBI investigations are delivered to the district attorney who requested the investigation. Stanback said he did not intend to release the Huerta report, per standard policy in his office, but he said the Huerta family and their attorney would have access to it and could do with it as they wished.

On Thursday, Charns said in an emailed statement that he had yet to receive a copy of the report, but he and the family have been provided access to it.

“We look forward to meeting with the SBI so they can follow up on the additional investigative area that we identified,” Charns wrote.

Wise: 919-641-5895

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