Family of teen who died in police custody wants investigation

Thousands of people from across the US have signed a petition, asking the U.S. Department of Justice to step in.
December 8, 2013 9:00:00 PM PST
The family of a teenager who died while in police custody is demanding an investigation by the U.S. Department of Justice.

On Nov. 19, 17-year-old Jesus Huerta, a Riverside High School student, was found dead in the back of a Durham police car in the department headquarters' parking lot after the officer driving said he heard a loud noise and jumped out of the vehicle.

While police have not said how the teen died, a recording of police radio traffic made public after the incident, revealed what the officer driving the car told a dispatcher.

The dispatcher asked if he was hurt and Officer Samuel Duncan said he didn't believe so. He said Huerta had a gunshot wound and was "not breathing."

» Click here to listen to the radio calls «

Following the incident, Huerta's mother said she was dealing with a lot of regret and put part of the blame on herself. She said she was the one who called the police to come get her son. She said her son was threatening to run away.

His mother told ABC11 in a November interview that she would have never called authorities if she knew her son would end up dead.

She said she blames police. However, following the incident, the Durham Police Chief Jose Lopez said there was no evidence one of his officers fired a gun.

The boy's family has said they don't know if the teen had a gun on him, but they do know something went wrong.

"We want answers about how my brother died," said Huerta's sister, Evelin Huerta in a press release Monday. "But that can't be taken out of the context of a police department with a history of discriminating against black and Latino people. Durham Police Department has a problem, and it will take the Department of Justice to make sure no one else loses a son and a brother like my family did."

The family is working with a national Latino advocacy group "Presente," which has gathered about 15,000 signatures in support of a federal investigation. On Tuesday, Huerta's mother and three siblings delivered those signatures to the FBI Resident Agency in Cary calling for a Department of Justice investigation.

"Even though it's rainy, even though it's cold...we're here. We want justice...we're capable of going as far as we can to show that we care," said Evelin Huerta.

However, Huerta's family says dealing with a department that is being investigated for two other officer involved shooting, and a discrimination complaint, isn't comforting.

That was made evident when Huerta's mother said she turned down a face-to-face meeting with Durham Police Chief Jose Lopez.

"Chief Lopez asked for a meeting just by herself, nobody else but her. Why? We don't know," said Evelin Huerta.

Lopez says through the Huerta family attorney, he did offer to meet with the mother. He also issued a statement Tuesday.

"The family has the right to make such a request and we respect that right. We are cooperating fully with the current independent investigation and we will do likewise if there is a federal investigation. We have been as forthcoming as we possibly can with respect to information that can be released to the public and we will continue to do so," said Lopez.

They family hopes this latest move will help get them answers sooner.

"They're behind it 100 percent," said Erica Scott-Pacheco, with Presente. "They want justice not only for their son and their brother but really just the assurance that an investigation will be done to make sure all of us are safe in Durham."

The State Bureau of Investigation is currently reviewing the teen's death. An autopsy is currently under way to determine exactly how Huerta died.

Duncan is on paid administrative leave while the investigation is underway.

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