I do not believe Jesus Huerta committed suicide: UPDATED BELOW

January 17, 2014

Friday, January 17, 2014

Good afternoon:

On December 22nd, I wrote:

How is it possible to shoot yourself in the head while seated in the back seat of a police cruiser with your wrists cuffed behind your back after you were searched for weapons and none were found?

Chief Jose Lopez of the Durham Police Department in Durham, NC says Jesus Huerta, 17, did that after being arrested on an outstanding warrant for second-degree trespassing issued last July.

Jesus Huerta’s family still lacks a satisfactory answer to that question.

Leon Stanback, the District Attorney for Durham County, announced last week at a press conference that no one will be charged with a crime.

“After having received and reviewed the complete State Bureau of Investigation file, the chief medical examiner’s report, relevant North Carolina State Crime Laboratory reports, physical evidence, and forensic photographs, the Durham County District Attorney has found that there is not probable cause to charge a crime in Jesus Huerta’s death,” District Attorney Leon Stanback read from a statement outside the Durham County Courthouse.

“Our condolences go to the grieving family and friends of Jesus Huerta,” he continued.

We know a little more information today courtesy of Jim Wise and Jonathan Alexander of the News Observer:

(1) The weapon was a .45 caliber semiautomatic that has been traced to a pawn shop in Commerce, GA in 1991. I believe it may be a Glock, but I am not certain. Huerta was born in 1996.

(2) Huerta was searched and handcuffed with his hands behind his back before he was placed in the back seat of the police vehicle.

(3) The arresting and transporting officer was Samuel Duncan, who said that he did not find the gun during the search. He also said that he searched the back seat of his patrol vehicle for weapons and contraband before he started his shift and did not find anything. Such a search is standard operating procedure and no one else was in the back seat before Duncan placed him there.

(4) The video recorder for the back seat of the vehicle was not functioning and did not record the shooting. I do not know whether it malfunctioned, he failed to turn it on, or it recorded the shooting but was erased. As part of the standard operating procedure, he may have been required to check to see if it were functioning at the beginning of his shift.

(5) The medical examiner who conducted the autopsy reported that Huerta died from a close-range gunshot that hit him in the mouth, passed through his head and lodged in the roof of the police car in which he was sitting with his hands cuffed.

(6) Duncan heard something scraping against the plastic back seat but did not stop to investigate because they were close to headquarters. As he turned into the headquarters parking lot, he heard a loud noise, thought he was being shot at and jumped out of the car while it was still in gear. The car continued moving until it struck another vehicle, as Duncan made a “shots fired” call.

(7) When officers arrived at Duncan’s car, they found Huerta dead and the handgun in the back seat.

(8) The plastic back seat is made of hard plastic formed from a cast. The seat and seat-back are a solid unit without a gap between the seat and the seat-back or between the floor, where a suspect’s feet normally rest during transport, and the bottom of the seat. Many police departments replace the regular back seats, that are standard issue with newly purchased vehicles, with the manifestly uncomfortable hard plastic seats to prevent or make it more difficult for suspects under arrest to conceal weapons or contraband behind the seat-back or under the seat.

(9) Huerta was arrested on an outstanding warrant for criminal trespassing second degree, which is a minor misdemeanor. He probably missed a court hearing and the judge issued a warrant. The cops would not have attempted to serve him with the warrant because they are too busy to be bothered with such a minor offense. The arrest in this case was precipitated by a 911 call from Huerta’s sister. She asked for police assistance to find him because he left the house after threatening to kill himself when his mother caught him using drugs. That background information was not relayed by the dispatcher to the arresting officer, who took him into custody after he found him because of the outstanding warrant for his arrest.

I see where this is going, but I cannot imagine how this cop could have failed to find the gun. On the other hand, assuming he decided to kill Huerta for some as yet unknown reason, he certainly picked an attention-getting way to do it by shooting him in the mouth in the back seat with Huerta’s hands cuffed behind the back.

Sometimes cops do not care about drawing attention. For example, Ramos and Cicinelli beat Kelly Thomas to death recorded by audio and video.

Bottom line for me: I do not see how Huerta could have fired the gun and it’s too damn convenient that the video wasn’t working.

UPDATE: We believe the gun is not a Glock. It is a Hi Point Firearms pistol, this model. Barrel length is 4.5 inches.

This el cheapo gun was assembled in Ohio. Here is a little more about the company.

When cops decide to play dirty, they often acquire a gun like this that’s difficult to trace and carry it in a concealed manner. For example, I’ve known cops who will carry such a gun in a holster above their ankle hidden by their pant leg. They are also easy to conceal in a police vehicle. Cops refer to them as throw-down guns because they can plant them on a previously convicted felon, for example, to boost his time with a minimum mandatory on a new beef. They can also shoot and kill an unarmed suspect and throw the gun down next to the body or place it in the dead guy’s hand and claim they fired in self-defense. They can also shoot and kill the suspect with the gun and claim he committed suicide.

Other than the improbable nature of this claimed suicide and the unexplained presence of this gun in the back seat, I have no specific evidence to believe that Officer Samuel Duncan shot and killed Jesus Huerta with this gun.

I would be interested in finding out if any of Huerta’s family or friends saw him with this gun before the shooting.

I do not believe Huerta committed suicide and I will not believe it until someone can show me how he could have done it with his hands cuffed behind his back.

By a process of elimination that places Officer Samuel Duncan in the hot seat.

Except that the district attorney has announced that he will not charge him with a crime.

His decision does not inspire confidence.


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Did Jesus Huerta, 17, kill himself or did police kill him? EDITED BELOW

December 22, 2013

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Good Evening:

How is it possible to shoot yourself in the head while seated in the back seat of a police cruiser with your wrists cuffed behind your back after you were searched for weapons and none were found?

Chief Jose Lopez of the Durham Police Department in Durham, NC says Jesus Huerta, 17, did that after being arrested on an outstanding warrant for second-degree trespassing issued last July.

Here’s Chief Lopez,

Chief Lopez said Huerta was searched by police prior to the shooting incident and the weapon was not detected. He said it remains unclear where the teen had the weapon.

“I know that it is hard for people not in law enforcement to understand how someone could be capable of shooting themselves while handcuffed behind the back,” Lopez said. “While incidents like this are not common, they unfortunately have happened in other jurisdictions in the past.”

CNN recently reported,

The chief said at the news conference that gunshot residue tests were conducted on Huerta and the arresting officer, and the North Carolina State Bureau of Investigation “found that Huerta was wearing gloves and that his gloves had a saturation of gunshot residue on it. Officer Duncan’s revealed that he had no gunshot residue on his hands,” Lopez said.

I am not impressed by the gunshot-residue evidence since he probably removed Huerta’s gloves when he handcuffed him. He could have put the gloves on, fired the shot, and replaced the gloves on Huerta’s hands or he could have fired the shot and used Huerta’s gloves to wipe the residue from his hands.

I do not believe Huerta somehow managed to conceal the gun so that the officer missed it during the search before he was handcuffed and placed in the cruiser.

Officers go rogue sometimes and when they do, they carry all sorts of things like a small quantity of crack or powder cocaine and the occasional firearm to throw down on a suspect with a prior felony conviction or someone they decide to kill.

Huerta’s family, friends and supporters are calling bullshit and demanding a federal investigation into the shooting. Demonstrations in downtown Durham have turned violent with demonstrators accusing police of police brutality and police accusing demonstrators of throwing rocks and bottles.

Police arrested at least six people last Thursday night.

The demonstrators have vowed to march through downtown on the 19th of each month until they get answers and justice is done.

The case is being investigated by the State Bureau of Investigators, but no report has been issued.

(h/t to Wendy Davis at Firedoglake for informing me about this matter)

EDIT: Upon reflection, I have deleted the last sentence, which erroneously asserted that Durham police had killed three civilians since July including Huerta, because it was erroneous and replaced it with the following:

According to CNN:

The North Carolina State Bureau of Investigation has looked into three deaths in five months involving Durham police officers, and two of those killed were Latinos, according to CNN affiliate WRAL.

I apologize for the error.

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