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Durham Chief: Handcuffed Teen Shoots, Kills Himself In Police Car

Durham Police Department badge.
City of Durham

Durham Police Chief Jose Lopez said it might be hard for people not in law enforcement to believe how a 17-year-old boy died while in police custody.

The chief said at a news conference Wednesday that Jesus Huerta shot and killed himself while handcuffed in the back of a police car.  He had been detained by Officer Samuel Duncan after police received a report on a runaway.

"Officer Duncan discovered that Jesus Huerta had an outstanding warrant for his arrest issued in July for second degree trespassing," Lopez was quoted as saying in a statement.  "Based on the preliminary investigation, it appears that Officer Duncan handcuffed, searched and detained Jesus Huerta in the back seat of his patrol car while the investigation into the incident continued."

Lopez says Duncan was bringing Huerta back to the station as part of that investigation  The officer was pulling into the police station parking area when he heard a shot inside the vehicle.

"Officer Duncan jumped from the vehicle for fear of being shot.  The patrol vehicle rolled through the parking lot of headquarters and came to rest against another parked vehicle," Lopez says.

After notifying 911 and calling for EMS response, Lopez says Duncan got a closer look at the back of the vehicle and saw Huerta with a wound to his head slumped over in the back seat.  A gun was on the floorboard of the car.

"Our department continues to investigate the origin of the weapon but can confirm that it was not a departmental weapon and no officer fired a weapon during this incident." Lopez said.  "The medical examiner’s office has confirmed that Jesus Huerta died from a gunshot wound to his head.  Whether that wound was accidental or intentional is unknown at this time."

The State Bureau of Investigation is also looking into the events that led up to Huerta's death.

Gurnal Scott joined North Carolina Public Radio in March 2012 after several stops in radio and television. After graduating from the College of Charleston in his South Carolina hometown, he began his career in radio there. He started as a sports reporter at News/Talk Radio WTMA and won five Sportscaster of the Year awards. In 1997, Gurnal moved on to television as general assignment reporter and weekend anchor for WCSC-TV in Charleston. He anchored the market's top-rated weekend newscasts until leaving Charleston for Memphis, TN in 2002. Gurnal worked at WPTY-TV for two years before returning to his roots in radio. He joined the staff of Memphis' NewsRadio 600 WREC in 2004 eventually rising to News Director. In 2006, Raleigh news radio station WPTF came calling and he became the station's chief correspondent. Gurnal’s reporting has been honored by the South Carolina Broadcasters Association, the North Carolina Associated Press, and the Radio Television Digital News Association of the Carolinas.
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