New information in teen’s death prompts meeting
State Bureau of Investigation agents will meet next week with Durham prosecutors and the family of a teen who died in police custody to discuss new information the family shared in the case, authorities said.
Noelle Talley, spokeswoman for N.C. Attorney General Roy Cooper, confirmed Thursday that the meeting is planned for next week and is being set up by the Durham County District Attorney’s Office.
District Attorney Leon Stanback said his office will reopen the inquiry into the November death of 17-year-old Jesus Huerta “only if the SBI finds that the information – I won’t say evidence – that [family attorney Alex Charns] gave them is credible and deserves some type of further inquiry.”
Stanback declined further comment.
Charns said in an email this week that he’s sent what he called “evidence” directly to the SBI agent in charge of the inquiry.
“This will allow the SBI to follow up on the additional investigative area that we identified,” he said.
Charns has declined to make public what the new information is, but said he would do so if the SBI fails to looks into it.
He also asked that the SBI, with consent of witnesses, digitally record follow-up interviews.
“The SBI often conducts interviews with witnesses and takes handwritten notes,” Charns said. “These notes are typed up in transcript form though they are not transcripts.”
He said the notes contain quotes and paraphrasing of witness statements – a technique he said prevents prosecutors and others from reviewing it to learn how the interview was conducted.
“To rely on note-taking alone is inexact and denies the court, prosecutors and all other interested persons in the judicial system access to the record of what actually occurred,” he said.
Huerta, a Riverside High School student, died in Durham police custody the night of Nov. 19 after police picked him up on an outstanding trespassing charge. Authorities said he shot himself in the face while sitting in the back of a patrol car at police headquarters with his hands cuffed behind his back.
Huerta’s family has questioned the police account of how he died. They’ve called for a federal investigation of possible civil rights violations by the Durham Police Department.
At a press conference last week, Stanback said there was no probable cause to pursue criminal charges in Huerta’s death based on the SBI’s findings.
Earlier this month, police released a preliminary report that Officer Samuel Duncan missed a .45-caliber handgun when he frisked Huerta before putting him in a police car. The department’s final report has not been released.