Durham DA reopens Jesus Huerta investigation

jwise@newsobserver.comJanuary 28, 2014 

Jesus Huerta


— The district attorney’s office has agreed to investigate new evidence in the shooting death of teenager Jesus Huerta Nov. 19 while in Durham police custody.

The evidence, described as “an anonymous tip” in a statement issued Tuesday morning, was sent to the State Bureau of Investigation last week by the Huerta family’s attorney, Alex Charns.

“We have agreed to look into the material to the extent that it is reasonable and productive, and has a probability of relating to a crime,” the DA’s statement reads. District Attorney Leon Stanback was not available for comment.

“We look forward to the SBI follow-up on the additional investigative area that was identified,” Charns said.

The DA’s statement did not indicate when the “look into” would begin or how long it would take.

The SBI concluded its original investigation Jan. 2 and delivered its report to Stanback. Stanback said Jan. 10 that he found “no probable cause” to believe a crime had been committed and said as far as his office was concerned the case was closed.

Charns said he and the family had concerns about the SBI investigation and wanted the SBI to pursue another “area of inquiry.” He has declined to describe that area, or the evidence sent to the SBI, but he has raised questions about agents’ practice of keeping handwritten interview notes instead of recording witnesses electronically.

“We encourage the SBI, with the consent of the witnesses, to digitally tape-record any follow-up interviews. We look forward to seeing the results of a complete and thorough, professionally conducted SBI investigation after it’s finished,” Charns said in a formal statement of his own Tuesday morning.

According to the statement, the DA agreed to have the investigation resume after meeting with Charns and the SBI. The SBI had contacted the Durham DA after receiving the evidence, according to Noelle Talley, spokeswoman for the state Department of Justice.

The Durham Police Department has not reported final results of its internal investigations of Huerta’s death.

Officer failed to find gun

Jesus Huerta, 17, was killed by a gunshot wound to the head while seated in the back of a Durham police car with his hands cuffed behind his back. Police have said the shot was self-inflicted, and that Officer Samuel Duncan failed to find the gun during a “cursory” search at the time of Huerta’s arrest.

According to the state Medical Examiner’s report, the fatal shot came from below, passing through a fold in Huerta’s jacket before striking him on the lower lip, traveling through his head and lodging in the patrol car’s roof near the partition between the front and back seats.

The police conclusion that Huerta shot himself, intentionally or by accident, has met some public skepticism, but similar incidents have occurred elsewhere including a 2006 Houston case in which a handcuffed suspect shot and killed the officer driving him to jail.

Following another apparent suicide in Jonesboro, Ark., in 2012, investigating officers tested the difficulty of drawing a concealed weapon and pointing it at their own heads at close range. They found it was “very easy,” Jonesboro Police Chief Michael Yates said.

A video of the Jonesboro officers’ testing is available at bit.ly/1anE1M3.

Wise: 919-641-5895

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