DURHAM: Autopsy says Huerta died of gunshot wound in mouth

Autopsy: Durham's Huerta died of gunshot wound in mouth

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Jesus Huerta died Nov. 19 from a gunshot wound to the head while he was handcuffed in the backseat on a Durham Police cruiser. Jesus Huerta died Nov. 19 from a gunshot wound to the head while he was handcuffed in the backseat on a Durham Police cruiser.
DURHAM, N.C. -

Jesus Huerta died in the back seat of a police car from a gunshot wound through the mouth, the North Carolina Office of the Chief Medical Examiner said late Friday afternoon.

The report was released the same day as a Durham Police news conference on its internal report, a report that Huerta's family questioned.

The medical examiner said Huerta died at 2:50 a.m. on Nov. 19 and the manner of death was "undetermined." Huerta was found slumped slightly to his left side and the gun was on the passenger side floor board.

The autopsy said he was shot in the mouth and the bullet was found in the right backseat roof of the car.

The autopsy said he had a hole in his jacket in the right front chest region.

There was no alcohol detected in his system.

The Durham Police said Jesus Huerta was patted down and the car he was in had been checked before he was shot in the back of a police car.

The Durham Police Department released the preliminary findings from its internal investigation in the Jesus Huerta case during a press conference Friday.

The important thing is for the public is to receive the truth and it takes time to get to the truth," said Deputy Chief of Police Anthony Marsh. "We certainly wouldn't want to put accuracy at risk for the sake of rushing to satisfy a desire to know."

Read the full report released by the Durham Police Department

Cpt. Laura Clayton gave the report and said the officer involved, S. Duncan, had frisked Huerta after taking Huerta into custody early in the morning Nov. 19.

Clayton said Duncan had checked the car, unit 225, when he began his shift at 5:45 p.m. on Nov. 18. She said Duncan found no "contraband" in the front or back seat.

Duncan found Huerta that night after a call about a runaway juvenile. Clayton said Huerta used a different name at first, but that Duncan learned it was Huerta. Huerta was taken into custody on a previous warrant and Duncan handcuffed him behind Huerta's back. She also said Duncan frisked Huerta by checking his pockets and jacket to check for weapons and found none.

Marsh addressed the issue of the gun in question not being found during a frisk of Huerta.

"For me to the say the search was appropriate, or inappropriate or within policy or out of policy, that would be rendering a finding of fact in an investigation that's still ongoing. It would be premature to do that at this point," Marsh said.

Clayton said Huerta tried to drop his handcuffed hands behind his knees, and Duncan told him to stop. Huerta said he "had a wedgie" and was uncomfortable. Huerta continued to try to do that en route to the Durham Police Department, which was only a mile away. Duncan said he heard something rubbing in the back seat of the car.

Clayton said Duncan planned to check Huerta again once he reached headquarter, but on arrival, Duncan heard a gunshot in the back.

Duncan jumped out of  the car, which was still in drive, and the car crashed.

Clayton said the car's internal video was not turned on at the time. The camera was started at 6:05 p.m. when Duncan initially logged on to the system but did not turn the camera back on after picking up Huerta.

When Duncan and another officer approached the car, they found Huerta dead in the back. There was a .45 caliber semiautomatic handgun in the back.

The police report did not say how Huerta got the gun. The police report also said Duncan was not told that Huerta had showed suicidal tendencies.

Chief Jose Lopez attended the news conference but was not one of the police officials to speak in the presentation.

Deputy Chief Anthony Marsh, when pressed for answers by the media on how the , said,

SBI tests showed gunpowder on the white gloves Huerta was wearing and no gunpowder on Duncan's hands.

The .45 was last known to be at a Georgia pawn shop in 1991. Durham Police said they didn't have records of who owned the gun after that.

In a response, Alex Charns, the attorney for the Huerta family, said the press conference brought up "more questions and more mysteries and more problems. Is this the type of police culture we want? The culture starts at the top, at the chief."

Charns questioned how the information in the case has been coming out, saying the Durham Police "are showing little pieces. Why was the family left in the parking lot without answers? Most of what they had to say today, they knew that morning."

City councilors unanimously voted behind closed doors Monday night to make public the internal report on the death of the 17-year-old.

Huerta died Nov. 19 from a gunshot wound to the head while he was handcuffed in the backseat on a Durham Police cruiser.

Durham Police said Huerta died from a self-inflicted gunshot wound, but they have not said how a gun found its way into Huerta's possession in the first place.

The Durham Police released the internal information after being ordered to do so by the City Council.

Durham Mayor Bill Bell said the release of the report was essential to making sure the public can keep good faith in city officials.

Durham Tom Bonfield said this incident should be a lesson for everyone.

"It just paints a picture of a very tragic situation. You heard the department acknowledge various things that had they been different along the way, could have resulted in a different outcome," Bonfield said. 

Last month, two demonstrations against police regarding the department's handling of the Huerta case turned violent. In one protest, officers used tear gas to disperse crowds that had gathered in downtown Durham. Police said some in the crowd threw rocks and bottles at officers.

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