Why Did 17-Year-Old Jesus Huerta Die in the Back of a Durham, NC Police Car?

Nov 25, 2013
10:16 AM

Last week in Durham, North Carolina, home of Duke University, 17-year-old Jesus Huerta died in the back of a police car.


Jesus Huerta

This is what a local Durham newspaper wrote about the case:

Jesus Huerta, a 10th-grader at Riverside High School, was being charged with second-degree trespassing just before 3 a.m. Tuesday and was in the back seat of a patrol car driven by Officer Samuel A.M. Duncan in the parking lot at police headquarters.

Duncan said he heard a loud noise from the back seat and jumped from the car, according to Durham police chief Jose Lopez. An out-of-breath police officer radioed emergency dispatchers to report that shots had been fired in the parking lot and asked for medical assistance for a gunshot wound, “approximately 18-year-old male, not breathing,” according to the recording released by the Police Department.

Lopez has also not said where Huerta was arrested or why, other than to say he was being charged with second-degree trespassing. Second-degree trespassing is a Class 3 misdemeanor, the lowest level misdemeanor, punishable by a maximum $200 fine, community punishment and one to 10 days in jail, according to state statutes.

Duncan could have issued a citation to Huerta instead of taking him to police headquarters to obtain an arrest warrant, according to police department policy. The policy states that “officers are encouraged” to use alternatives to arrest for misdemeanors “where there is no danger to persons or property and where the suspect has an identifiable address within a reasonable distance.”

The case sparked a protest in Durham over the weekend. Reports described the protest as “destructive.” About 200 people protested and there were three arrests:

Some of those who joined the march as it progressed wore black hooded sweatshirts, ski masks and bandanas. Several of those wearing the black sweatshirts began yelling at police and throwing firecrackers at officers, the police headquarters and police vehicles.

Some people began to beat on windows of the police building, and a window in a police cruiser was shattered. More than 15 officers came out from the building to help defuse the situation. The crowd yelled at officers as they tried to push the crowd back.

The crowd finally walked back to the plaza after nearly 20 police cruisers responded to the scene.

It doesn’t seem like this is going away, and as one writer noted, something’s up:

Personally, I don’t believe one word of what the Durham Police Department has stated. It seems to me, and many others throughout the city, that Durham police officers are simply covering their tracks with a concocted story that makes no physical or logical sense whatsoever.

The official response of the Durham police chief, Jose Lopez, states that 17-year-old Jesus Huerta died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound while placed under arrest in the back seat of a police squad car. After Durham police Officer Samuel Duncan arrested Huerta, reports state that Officer Duncan heard a loud noise from the vehicle’s rear seat and jumped out of his moving patrol cruiser. Duncan’s squad car then slammed into a parked van, leaving Huerta shot and killed in the process. This incident occurred right outside of the Durham Police Department headquarters parking lot.

Just another week in the United States.