Chief defends police actions during march and vigil

Dec. 20, 2013 @ 07:13 PM
Durham Police Chief Jose Lopez Sr. on Friday defended the use of tear gas against protesters during a march and vigil that became unruly the night before.
“Our officers showed remarkable restraint under very volatile conditions last night,” the chief said during a news conference. “They were professional and well-trained.”
About 150 people showed up Thursday night to march from CCB Plaza to police headquarters and back, marking the one-month anniversary of the death of Jesus Huerta.
Huerta, 17, died of an alleged self-inflicted gunshot wound while handcuffed in the back of Officer Samuel Duncan’s patrol car in the headquarters parking lot the morning of Nov. 19.
A demonstration a few days after Huerta’s death seemed to take police by surprise and ended with some participants throwing rocks through windows at headquarters, tossing firecrackers and breaking a window in an unoccupied patrol car.
This time, though, Lopez had advance warning about the protest. On Wednesday night, the department issued a statement, indicating that police presence would be stepped up along the route, urging a peaceful gathering and warning people against wearing masks or vandalizing property.
On Friday, the chief said that he didn’t think the situation was exacerbated by lining the streets with police officers who represent the very agency that seemed to fuel the ire of the protesters.
“Our presence ensured the safety of individuals,” Lopez said.
He said that tear gas canisters weren’t deployed to disperse the crowd until after some “disruptive” people threw rocks and bottles at police -- and then only after repeated warnings.
Police shared copies of handouts that allegedly were circulated among some in the crowd, with tips about concealing one’s identity from police and raging against police oppression, decrying them as “an occupying force.”
They also provided a statement from a group called the Inside-Outside Alliance, which said that “the police do not exist to keep us safe and secure. They exist to make many black and brown people feel less safe and secure.”
In the hours after the incident, the chief issued a statement praising the professionalism of the officers involved. He noted that the incident “had the potential to be much worse.”
As with the first protest, Lopez blamed Thursday’s problems not on the family and friends of Huerta, but on outsiders simply bent on causing trouble.
Officers arrested six people during the tumult, all between the ages of 15 and 22:
Andy Guadalupe Mendoza, 18, of Berkeley Street, for allegedly failing to disperse on command and resisting an officer.
Gustavo Pascual Gutierrez, 22, of Angier Avenue, for allegedly trespassing on Durham Police Headquarters property.
Benjamin Colt Markgraft, 20, of Rougemont Road, for allegedly carrying a concealed switchblade knife, disorderly conduct and impeding traffic.
Vianey Fuentes, 17, of Great Bend Drive, for allegedly failing to disperse on command and resisting an officer.
Perla Eliza Fuentes, 16, of Tremont Drive, for allegedly failing to disperse on command and resisting an officer.
And a 15-year-old unidentified girl, no charge specified.
Brieon Govantes, 20, of Durham attended the vigil with his girlfriend, Antanice Bevly. Govantes said he had seen Huerta, known to friends and family as “Chuy,” at the downtown skateboarding park and wanted to join a peaceful remembrance.
What the couple found instead, Govantes said, “was just pandemonium for no reason.”
He said he heard a Hispanic youth taken into custody ask a police officer: “Are you going to shoot me when you put me in the back of your car like you did Chuy?”
According to Govantes, the officer answered, “You aren’t worth the bullet.”
Lopez could not be reached for comment about that allegation.
After discussing Thursday night’s unrest, the chief reported that results had come back from the State Bureau of Investigation laboratory about gunshot residue tests. Lopez said that gloves worn by Huerta the morning of his arrest were saturated with residue. The hands of Officer Samuel Duncan, the officer who took Huerta into custody, searched and cuffed him and then drove him to headquarters, tested negative for residue, the chief said.
Alex Charns, lawyer for Huerta’s family, accused Lopez of playing a “shell game with the facts.”
“The chief knew on the morning of this tragedy that the teenager’s hands were cuffed behind his back, that he had been frisked and had no weapon when he was placed in the squad car,” Charns said. “The chief has never admitted whether the officer left Jesus in the squad car alone to get the warrant or how the gun ended up in the squad car.”
Charns asked for the lab reports and photographs of the gloves “so the family can see them and determine if they were Jesus’ gloves or gloves they’ve ever seen before.”
“Again, the chief asks us to trust when he provides no way for us to verify his claims,” Charns said.
Duncan remains on administrative leave with pay, according to Kammie Michael, police spokeswoman.
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