Warrant: Huerta may have been on drugs, suicidal
The morning that Jesus Huerta died in the back of Officer Samuel Duncan’s patrol car, a relative called 911 and said the teen had run away from home.
He’d been using drugs, despite efforts to change his ways in a program, the caller said, and previously had “tried to take his life.”
Superior Court Judge Elaine Bushfan on Tuesday unsealed a search warrant that discussed Huerta’s past and indicated that a backpack seized when he was arrested Nov. 19 contained items stolen from a home in his neighborhood.
A 911 recording released by Durham’s emergency communications department supported information in the affidavit for the warrant filed by Durham Police Investigator J.E. Barr.
The caller told a 911 dispatcher that Huerta, wearing a black and red jacket, white T-shirt and blue jeans “was taking drugs and had threatened to kill himself,” Barr stated.
In the recording, the caller said Huerta had been in a program to “try to help him out,” but said “he’s still in the same stuff.”
Duncan responded to the call, received about 2:10 a.m. when the relative called from a neighbor’s home, and found Huerta with a friend at Washington and Green streets, the warrant stated.
The officer discovered an arrest warrant for second-degree trespassing and put Huerta, 17, in custody. Duncan seized a backpack and black Samsung cell phone that were in the boy’s possession. Duncan put the backpack in the trunk of his patrol car before taking Huerta to Police Headquarters on West Chapel Hill Street.
“As Officer Duncan was pulling into the parking lot of Police Headquarters, he heard a gunshot come from the back seat of his patrol vehicle,” Barr wrote in the warrant. “Fearing he was being shot at, Officer Duncan dove out of the vehicle. Officer Duncan then discovered Huerta had shot himself in the back of his patrol vehicle.”
This corroborates the narrative given by Durham Police Chief Jose Lopez Sr., who told reporters in December that Huerta had died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound, but would not say whether the wound was accidental or intentional.
The N.C. Medical Examiner’s Office has yet to release an autopsy report about the circumstances of Huerta’s death.
It remains unclear whether Huerta had a gun on his person that Duncan somehow missed while searching and cuffing the teen behind the back or Huerta found the weapon in the back seat.
Duncan is back at work this week, but he’s on a desk assignment without badge or gun, said police spokeswoman Kammie Michael.
The fact that Huerta may have been using drugs and intended to harm himself should have prompted police to use even more care with him, said Alex Charns, an attorney who represents the boy’s family.
“Wouldn’t this give the police many good reasons to properly search and secure a teen whose family called the police asking for help?” Charns said.
Relatives hadn’t brought up Huerta’s troubled past during two marches and vigils in November and December – the first of which ended with broken windows at police headquarters, while the second ended with a crowd dispersed by police with tear gas and received national publicity. Another demonstration is scheduled for Jan. 19.
Although relatives said they sought answers and felt that Huerta’s death never should’ve happened, they never seemed to show the same vitriol as some protesters who accused police of killing the teen.
However, the family can’t be responsible for what others say and do, Charns said. All along, they’ve only wanted answers to their questions about how and why it happened.
An internal investigation report about the incident is expected to be released by city officials this week.
The teen’s problems may have extended beyond drugs and suicidal tendencies, according to the affidavit for the warrant.
On Dec. 31, while acting as a point of contact for the State Bureau of Investigation with their inquiry into the Riverside High student’s death, Barr signed out the backpack from evidence to go through its contents. Inside, he said, he found jewelry and electronics, some of which was confirmed stolen from a home on Haverford Street five days before Huerta died.
Barr filed for the warrant on Monday. In it, he asked that the warrant “be sealed for a period of 90 days from the date signed to protect the ongoing SBI investigation into the death of Huerta, as much of the information contained in this search warrant has not been released to the public and/or media.”
However, Assistant District Attorney James Dornfried on Tuesday moved to have the warrant unsealed because the provision to seal the document had been “inadvertently included.”
The motion indicates that the Police Department couldn’t find cause to seal the warrant and had no intention to seal it.
Follow on Twitter at @HS_WesPlatt. Connect on Facebook at facebook.com/wesplattheraldsun.