Durham DA reopens Jesus Huerta investigation

jwise@newsobserver.comJanuary 28, 2014 

— The State Bureau of Investigation has resumed investigating the shooting death of teenager Jesus Huerta Nov. 19 while in Durham police custody.

Noelle Talley, spokeswoman for the N.C. Attorney General’s office, confirmed Tuesday that the agency is looking into information that the Huerta family brought forward last week.

Earlier Tuesday, the Durham District Attorney’s office announced it had agreed to investigating what it described as “an anonymous tip” 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.

“We just want them to look at every single detail,” said Raziel Huerta, Jesus’s brother. “It’s hard to try to figure stuff out” with information still missing, he said.

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, though, 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 statement did not indicate when the “look into” would begin or how long it would take..

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

Durham News is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere in the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

Commenting FAQs | Terms of Service