DURHAM: Report says officer suspended after Huerta shooting - CBS 3 Springfield - WSHM

Report: Officer who searched Jesus Huerta suspended without pay

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Police say Jesus Huerta shot himself while handcuffed in the backseat of a Durham police cruiser. Police say Jesus Huerta shot himself while handcuffed in the backseat of a Durham police cruiser.
DURHAM, N.C. -

An officer who purportedly searched a Durham teen who shot himself while handcuffed in the back of a police cruiser in November was suspended for a week without pay, according to a report by Durham's police chief.

On Monday, the City of Durham released Chief Jose Lopez's final report on three incidents involving Durham police officers and the deaths of three suspects. Lopez issued the report to City Manager Thomas Bonfield on June 20; it outlines a number of changes Lopez said the department has implemented following the three shootings.

As a result of the incidents, Lopez said the police department will provide a report to the city manager within five working days of any officer-involved shooting or in-custody death. The reports will also be made available to the media and "will provide as much information as possible without hindering investigations."

Specifically in response to the November death of 17-year-old Jesus Huerta in the back of a police cruiser, Lopez also said he has implemented changes to the department's in-car camera system.

Lopez said the cameras were designed to turn off after 50 minutes of inactivity and required the officer on duty to log back into the system to start the recording process. The new system requires the officer to log in within 30 seconds or the camera will automatically start recording.

All officers are also now required to take a 2-hour course on conducting searches, and proper search techniques are now emphasized to new recruits.

"[The officer] failed to find a firearm, so whatever process he used didn't quite work in this instance," Lopez told WNCN Monday. "So we want to make sure that he has the best practice as far as searching and transferring prisoners."

In response to Lopez's report, Huerta's family issued a statement saying the Durham Police Department "can better protect and serve all our citizens by learning from the errors that the DPD admits were made here and those already found in the public record."

The family said, "The DPD and the city can take positive steps to prevent another teenager from dying in the back of a DPD squad car in the future."

  • Click Here to read the Huerta family's complete statement

In addition to the changes Lopez said the department has already implemented, Bonfield said he plans to review 44 recommended policy changes for the police department and present his report on those recommendations to City Council in August.

During its May 22 work session, Durham City Council reviewed 34 recommendations from the city's Human Relations Commission regarding allegations of racial profiling within the police force. Preceding the HRC's report, the city's Civilian Police Review Board additionally presented 10 recommendations on improving the role of the CPRB in the relationship between police and the community.

The HRC report outlines ways the police department can better communicate with the public, improve oversight of officers and train officers to deal with racial issues. It came after months of public hearings and analysis of publicly-available traffic stop data by several outside groups, which showed black people in Durham are much more likely to be stopped and searched in traffic than whites.

In reviewing the recommendations, Bonfield said he will implement any actions that he deems appropriate and are within his authority. He also said that any recommendations that he deems appropriate but are outside his authority of implementation will be referred to City Council for consideration.

Jose Adan Ocampo - July 27, 2013

In July, Officer Ronald Mbuthia shot and killed Jose Ocampo after Mbuthia said Ocampo charged at him with a knife.

Lopez's report on the shooting said officers responded to the 800 block of Park Avenue after receiving a report of a stabbing.

When they arrived, Lopez said Mbuthia located the stabbing victim, who told him that he had been cut with a bottle and the suspect fled the scene.

When the victim pointed out where the suspect had gone, the officers located a group of Hispanic men, including Ocampo, who had his hands in his pockets and blood on his pants.

Lopez said one of the responding officer ordered Ocampo to take his hands out of his pockets, but Ocampo initially did not follow the order. Ocampo was asked again to remove his hands from his pockets, at which point he pulled a knife out of his back pocket.

The officers drew their weapons and ordered Ocampo to put the knife down, but Lopez said he did not comply with the command. Lopez said a witness claimed to translate the officers' commands to Ocampo in Spanish because the witness said he did not think Ocampo understood English.

Lopez said Mbuthia reported that Ocampo ran toward the officers with the knife, at which point Mbuthia fatally shot Ocampo.

Lopez said several witnesses described Ocampo as holding the knife in various ways. One witness said Ocampo held the knife by its blade, but Lopez said that was inconsistent with how firefighters said he was holding the knife when they removed it from his hand.

Lopez said the firefighter who removed the knife reported that Ocampo held it by the handle with the blade turned back toward his elbow, "which is a threatening and assaultive manner."

Following an investigation by the State Bureau of Investigation, Durham District Attorney Leon Stanback said no criminal charges would be filed against Mbuthia, and an internal investigation found Mbuthia did not violate any police department policies or procedures.

Derek Walker - Sept. 17, 2013

In September, Corporal Robert Swartz shot and killed Derek Walker in CCB Plaza after Swartz said Walker pointed a gun directly at his face.

Lopez's report of the shooting said officers responded to CCB Plaza where they said a man was waving a gun in the air and threatening to kill himself. Lopez said the responding officers ordered Walker multiple times to put the gun down.

During the incident, Lopez said Walker made several statements about losing his son in a custody battle and wanting to die. At one point, Lopez said Walker turned to Swartz, tapped his chest and asked, "What do I have to do? Will it hurt?"

After about an hour, Lopez said Walker raised his gun to the side of his head, which he had done several times during the incident. When he was again told to put down his weapon, Lopez said Walker turned toward Swartz and aimed the gun at his face.

Believing he was in danger, Lopez said Swartz shot Walker in the chest, which resulted in his death.

Lopez said crisis negotiators responded to the scene, but Walked pointed his gun at Swartz before the negotiations could begin.

After his death, Lopez said investigators learned that Walker had told at least one acquaintance that he planned to force officers to shoot him in CCB Plaza. Lopez also said that Walker's gun was actually a pellet gun that officers mistook as a real handgun.

Following an investigation by the SBI, Stanback said no criminal charges would be filed against Swartz, and an internal investigation found Swartz did not violate any police department policies or procedures.

Jesus Huerta - Nov. 19, 2013

In November, Huerta shot himself while handcuffed in the backseat of a police cruiser after being arrested on an outstanding trespassing warrant.

Lopez's report said Huerta's sister reported him missing around 2:10 a.m. on Nov. 19. At the time, she told the 911 dispatcher that Huerta had "been using a lot of drugs." Lopez said Huerta's mother also expressed concern over his drug use.

About 20 minutes later, officers located two teenagers at Washington Street and Trinity Avenue. Lopez said the two teens initially provided false names, but upon learning their real identities, Lopez said the officers also learned of an outstanding warrant for Huerta's arrest on a trespassing charge.

Lopez said Officer Samuel Duncan placed Huerta under arrest and handcuffed him behind his back. Lopez said Duncan reported that he swept both sides of Huerta' body, including his waist area, and did not find any contraband. Two other officers also reported observing Duncan frisk Huerta.

The other teen, however, said the officers only patted their pockets and looked in their coats.

After being placed in the police cruiser, Lopez said one of the officers reported seeing Huerta move his hands from behind his back to behind his knees, at which point Duncan ordered Huerta to put his hands back behind his back.

Lopez said during the drive to the police station, Duncan reported that Huerta continued to move so much that Duncan told him several times to stay still. Duncan said Huerta told him that he had a "wedgie" and was uncomfortable.

Duncan also reported hearing something rubbing against the hard plastic backseat, but Duncan said he thought it was the sound of the handcuffs rubbing.

"Officer Duncan advised that if he wasn't so close to headquarters, he would have pulled over to do a more extensive search of Mr. Huerta based on the arrestee's behavior in the back of the patrol car," Lopez wrote in the report.

When they arrived at the police station, Duncan said he heard a loud noise that he recognized as a gunshot. Lopez said Duncan thought he was being shot at, so he jumped out of the car while it was still moving. Responding EMS found Huerta slumped over dead in the patrol car from a gunshot wound to his head.

Lopez said Duncan's patrol vehicle was equipped with an in-car video recording system, but the system has to be turned back on after automatically shutting off if the patrol vehicle is turned off for a certain amount of time. Lopez said the feature is intended to conserve the car battery.

Lopez also said that Duncan's patrol vehicle was idle for 50 minutes, resulting in the system automatically shutting off. When he returned to his vehicle, Duncan did not turn the video system back on, "consequently the camera was not recording during Mr. Huerta's arrest and transport."

Prior to Duncan's shift, Lopez said Duncan reported that he inspected his vehicle for any contraband and did not find anything. Lopez said all evidence and information collected indicates that Huerta had the gun concealed on him at the time of his arrest.

Lopez also said the teen that was with Huerta at the time of his arrest admitted to giving Huerta the gun, but he later recanted his story when in the presence of his attorney.

Following an investigation by the SBI, Stanback said no criminal charges would be filed in the case. An internal investigation, however, determined that Duncan violated procedures involving the transportation of prisoners and the police department's mobile video cameras.

As a result, Duncan received a 40-hour suspension without pay and remedial training in transporting and handing prisoners.

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