An officer searched a North Carolina teenager and the contents of a patrol car before the boy allegedly shot himself in the backseat, according to a preliminary report revealed Friday.
Jesus Huerta, 17, died from a gunshot wound to the head while handcuffed in the backseat of Officer Samuel Duncan’s police car in the early morning hours last year on Nov. 19. Duncan had taken Huerta into custody and conducted a search on his pants and jacket pockets before driving to police headquarters in Durham, N.C. His frisk did not reveal any contraband, according to the report.
“What we can say is, he searched Mr. Huerta. What we can’t say is, he missed the gun,” Durham Deputy Police Chief Anthony Marsh Sr. said during a media briefing on Friday afternoon. ”This happens throughout our profession; it’s not just Durham PD. There are times when items are missed.”
Jaime Perez, who was with Huerta at the time of the police encounter, said the officers only patted their pockets and looked inside their coats, according to the report.
“Officer Duncan’s hands were negative for gunshot residue, and Jesus Huerta’s gloves were positive for gunshot residue, indicating that Mr. Huerta fired a gun,” Professional Standards Division Commander Capt. Laura Clayton said Friday, reading from the report. “All evidence indicates that Mr. Huerta died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound.”
Police realized they had an outstanding arrest warrant for the Latino high school student after they responded to a call that he ran away from home. Duncan searched Huerta and was transporting him when he heard the boy moving around in the backseat of the vehicle.
“Mr. Huerta responded by saying that he had a wedgie and was uncomfortable,” Cristaldi said. Duncan planned to search Huerta again once they arrived to the office, about a three-minute drive from their starting point.
Upon Duncan and Huerta’s arrival to the headquarters, the officer heard a loud gunshot from the backseat of the car. Officials found the teen slumped in the backseat with his hands cuffed, and the pistol on the floor under him. First responders declared Huerta dead at the scene.
There wasn’t a reasonable place to conceal a handgun in the backseat area of the car, Cristaldi said. Huerta was the first and only person Duncan transported during his duty on Nov. 19.
Huerta’s sister advised the 911 dispatcher that her brother had attempted suicide in the past. But the dispatcher did not relay the information to patrol officers. The dispatcher told police that Huerta did not have any medical or mental conditions and was not at risk.
“We as a community continue to be left with more questions than answers,” Erica Scott Pacheco, operations and development manager of Presente.org, told msnbc. ”To me it just seems like part of a smear campaign to divert attention from the issues at hand.”
Organizers at Presente.org, a group that advocates for Latino rights, gathered 18,000 signatures for a petition they delivered to the FBI office in Raleigh, N.C., less than a month after Huerta’s death. They requested the Department of Justice conduct an investigation into the Huerta case and review the Durham Police Department’s practices.
Police fired tear gas at 150 of Huerta’s family and friends who gathered for a vigil on Dec. 20 to commemorate the one-month anniversary of his death. Officers arrested six people.
Data contained within Huerta’s phone, including several text messages referencing guns, are part of the ongoing investigation. Officials cannot conclude the investigation until they receive final reports from the Criminal Investigation Division and the North Carolina State Bureau of Investigation.
Police did not comment on a release date of the final report.
Durham Police Chief Jose Lopez Sr. did not attend Friday’s event because, Marsh said, he wouldn’t be able to provide additional information to the report.
Huerta’s death is the third Durham officer-related shooting of men of color since July 2013.