DURHAM — Police investigators have concluded an arresting officer violated two police policies the night teenager Jesus Huerta died in custody Nov. 19.
Officer Samuel Duncan was suspended without pay for 40 hours and required to take remedial training in the handling and transporting of prisoners, according to a final summary of investigations into Huertas death and those of two men fatally shot by Durham police officers in 2013.
Police Chief Jose L. Lopez sent the summary report to City Manager Tom Bonfield on Monday morning.
Bonfield said he had been aware of most of its contents and forwarded copies to City Council members and Mayor Bill Bell.
According to the report, investigators determined that officers Ronald Mbuthia and Robert Swartz acted appropriately in the deaths of Jose Ocampo on July 27 and Derek Walker on Sept. 17.
Because the summaries include personnel information, City Council approval was required for their public release, he said. The council approved releasing only the summary, Bonfield said, and kept the full reports confidential.
The summary provided some new details on the cases, including policy changes made in response to Huertas death.
After receiving reports from the State Bureau of Investigation, District Attorney Leon Stanback concluded there were no grounds for criminal action against any of the officers. A district attorney has the authority to make SBI reports public, but Stanback has not done so for any of the 2013 deaths.
All three cases raised immediate public controversy, the most over Huerta. Police concluded that the Riverside High School student shot himself while handcuffed in the back of Duncans patrol car.
Huertas arrest, on an outstanding trespassing warrant, and death led to three street protests, including one in which police dispersed demonstrators with tear gas.
According to Lopezs report, police tests found gunshot residue on gloves that Huerta was wearing at the time, but found none on Duncans hands.
Huerta family attorney Alex Charns issued a statement on the familys behalf Monday, saying that its own investigation is ongoing.
We are prohibited by court order from discussing what we may know about what is contained in the SBI investigation file, the statement said. We believe the DPD can better protect and serve all our citizens by learning from the errors that the DPD admits were made here and those already found in the public record.
Police had previously said that Duncan failed to find a gun when he searched Huerta and violated police policy by failing after the arrest to restart an in-car video camera that had automatically powered off, and would have recorded the shooting.
In response to Huertas death, Lopez said, police have updated in-car video systems to prevent an officers failure to turn them on and required all officers to undergo a two-hour update class on suspect searches.
The Durham Human Relations Commission had recommended that police keep in-car videos running at all times, in the report of its six-month investigation into alleged racial profiling and other racist behavior by Durham officers delivered to the City Council in May.
During the investigation, the commission also heard public complaints about police actions in the Huerta, Ocampo and Walker deaths.
That report was delivered to Mayor Bell in May. Bonfield is conducting his own research for a city administration response to the commission report, which he expects to deliver to the City Council in August.
Citizens and elected officials also criticized police for being slow to release information while the Huerta, Ocampo and Walker deaths were under internal and SBI review.
Lopez said Monday that in any future cases of police-involved shooting or death in custody the department will make a report to the city manager within five working days of the incident and will release those reports to news media.
Other officer cleared
Ocampo, a Honduran man suspected in a stabbing, was found to be holding a knife by the handle in a threatening manner when he was shot and killed by police July 27, according to the report.
Durham attorney Scott Holmes, who has closely followed the case, has said some witnesses maintain Ocampo, who spoke little English, was holding the knife handle side out in an attempt to surrender the weapon.
None of the officers on the scene speak Spanish, Lopez told reporters Monday, but a bystander translated their orders for Ocampo to drop the knife.
According to the report, only one witness investigators interviewed said Ocampo held the knife blade, and firefighters who arrived at the scene immediately after shots were fired saw a knife removed from Ocampos hand that was held by the handle.
There is no disputing his hand was not holding the blade, Lopez said.