Anonymous tip leads to new inquiry in teen’s death

Jan. 28, 2014 @ 03:22 PM

State Bureau of Investigation agents and prosecutors in the Durham County District Attorney’s Office have agreed to look into an anonymous tip in the death of Jesus Huerta, the 17-year-old high school student who died in police custody.
Alex Charns, who represents the Huerta family, asked for the agencies to follow up on the new information. Police said the Riverside High School student shot himself while handcuffed in the backseat of a police cruiser after he was picked up on a trespassing warrant.
The family has questioned the police account of how he died.
“We have examined the details contained in the tip and met with the attorney [Charns] and the SBI,” Roger Echols, chief assistant district attorney in Durham, said in a Tuesday release. “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.”
Echols said his office will await results of the SBI follow-up “and remain in close communication with the related parties.”
In an interview Tuesday, Echols declined to specify the nature of the tip.
Echols said he and District Attorney Leon Stanback met Monday with three SBI agents at the DA’s office, along with Charns.
He said the SBI will conduct the investigation and send its findings to the DA’s office.
Noelle Talley, public information officer for N.C. Attorney General Roy Cooper, said in an email: “The SBI is looking into the additional information brought forward by the Huerta family.” She did not elaborate.
Charns said Tuesday: “We look forward to the SBI follow-up on the additional investigative area that was identified.  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.”   
At a Jan. 14 press conference, DA Stanback said he wouldn’t seek criminal charges in Huerta’s death.
Stanback said he had reviewed complete reports from the SBI, medical examiner and state lab, and physical evidence and forensic photos pertaining to the teen’s death and found no probable cause for charges.
He said Huerta died of a “close-range gunshot wound which grazed his lower lip and perforated his skull” while in police custody.
The Durham Police Department is still doing an internal investigation that could result in disciplinary action against Samuel Duncan, the Durham police officer involved in the Huerta case.
Huerta’s death was the third Durham police officer-involved gunshot death last year.