Officer in Huerta case has lawyer

Jan. 02, 2014 @ 07:04 PM

A Durham lawyer confirmed Thursday that he’s representing the Durham Police Department officer who took Jesus Huerta into custody before the 17-year-old died of a gunshot wound.

Bill Thomas, whose firm does both criminal-defense and civil-litigation work, is working for Officer Samuel Duncan at the behest of the Fraternal Order of Police.

Thomas confirmed his role but otherwise offered little comment on the matter.

“The only thing I can say to you is that Officer Duncan has fully cooperated with the investigation being conducted by the State Bureau of Investigation, as well as the investigation by the Durham Police Department,” he said.

Duncan, a rookie officer who joined the department in July 2012, was bringing Huerta to police headquarters on Nov. 19 when Huerta died in back of his patrol car.

Police have said Huerta was searched and handcuffed. They also say the wound was self-inflicted, and that no police officer fired a weapon during the incident.

Duncan jumped from the still-moving car “for fear of being shot,” Police Chief Jose Lopez said last month.

The Huerta family and an assortment of critics of the Police Department have questioned the chief’s account of the incident. Another Durham lawyer, Alex Charns, is representing the Huerta family.

City Manager Tom Bonfield said officials learned that Duncan had obtained a lawyer when they talked to the state attorney general’s office several weeks ago about expediting the SBI investigation.

“It’s not that unusual,” he said, noting that groups like the Fraternal Order of Police and the Police Benevolent Association often procure legal aid for officers facing investigations.

Thomas is one of Durham’s most prominent lawyers, having had a hand in matters like the Duke lacrosse case and the noise dispute that played out last year between south Durham’s newhope church and its neighbors.

In those cases, he represented a large group of former Duke lacrosse players and the church, respectively.