City releasing report on Huerta case Friday

Jan. 09, 2014 @ 06:42 PM

Police and city officials have scheduled a briefing today at 2 p.m. to disclose what the Police Department knows about the Jesus Huerta case.

The move follows a closed-door City Council meeting earlier this week that saw council members agree to release, for purposes of maintaining public confidence in city services, the results of the department internal-affairs probe of Huerta’s in-custody death.

Huerta, 17, died in the back of a police patrol car outside headquarters on Nov. 19. Police Chief Jose Lopez Sr. has said he died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound.

The youth was picked up as a potential runaway at the behest of his family, who summoned authorities after he left home in the wake of some sort of argument.

A relative told 911 dispatchers he’d previously “tried to take his own life.”

The incident has provoked widespread criticism of the Police Department, opinions ranging from those who say it failed in its duty to protect Huerta to those who’ve signaled a belief an officer may have killed him.

City Manager Tom Bonfield told elected officials Thursday that the briefing had been scheduled for police headquarters on West Chapel Hill Street.

He later said City Attorney Patrick Baker will arrange the sharing of the report with Huerta’s family, working through its lawyer, Alex Charns.

The department’s internal-affairs probe isn’t the same thing as the investigation of the incident being performed by the State Bureau of Investigation. That remains incomplete.

District Attorney Leon Stanback confirmed Thursday that he’s received partial reports from the SBI not just on the Huerta case, but on two other 2013 officer-involved shootings, those of Jose Ocampo and Derek Walker.

Both men were shot by police officers. Ocampo died on July 27 after confronting police while holding a knife. Witnesses claimed he was trying to surrender, but police said he failed to follow orders to drop the weapon.

Walker died after a very public armed standoff with police at CCB Plaza in downtown Durham on Sept. 17. He apparently was distraught over a child custody matter, and was shot after pointing a pistol at himself, at bystanders and at police.

Missing so far from each report is the findings of the official autopsies, Stanback said.

“Once we get the full reports, we will examine them and see whether or not any action is necessary on our part,” he said.

In the Walker case, “I don’t think the medical report is going to make that much difference because there’s not much question about what killed him and what officer fired the shot,” Stanback said. “So we’ve examined pretty much everything that matters in that case. But we still don’t like to make a final statement until we have everything.”

Also on Thursday, organizers announced via Facebook that they’ve scheduled an “Interfaith Prayer Vigil of Peace, Unity and Reconciliation” in memory of Huerta for Jan. 19, the two-month anniversary of his death.

The event will take place at Immaculate Conception Catholic Church, 810 W. Chapel Hill St., at 7 p.m. Jan. 19 falls on a Sunday.

Sponsors of the vigil include the church, the Huerta family, the Religious Coalition for a Nonviolent Durham, El Centro Hispano and Durham Congregations in Action. Also sponsoring it is Durham Congregations, Associations and Neighborhoods, better known as Durham CAN.

Charns confirmed that the Huerta family is co-sponsoring the event but referred questions to a church spokeswoman, Maryann Crea.

She said the vigil is similar to events organized for other victims of gun violence in Durham. And Crea and the Facebook announcement both acknowledged two previous pro-Huerta gatherings had ended in disorder.

The first, on Nov. 22, included the vandalism of police headquarters. At the second, on Dec. 19, police used tear gas to disperse the crowd, accounts varying on whether they acted as or before participants threw rocks and bottles at them.

“The first two vigils didn’t go as the family would have wished, but we’d like for them to have the same opportunity for prayer and a reverent place for the community to come together, same as we’ve done in the part for many other vigils in the community, too many,” Crea said.

She said organizers have met with Huerta’s family and believe his relatives “are looking for a place where they can have a peaceful and respectful remembrance of Jesus.”


Keith Upchurch contributed to this report.