Durham Police knew that Jesus Huerta may have been mentally unstable when Officer Samuel Duncan picked him up at the corner of Washington and Trinity streets on Nov. 19, according to recordings released to City Council late yesterday afternoon. However, at a press conference on Friday, the department released results of an internal investigation indicating that officers did not know of his mental state, including previous attempts to commit suicide.
The N&O reported this information earlier this morning.
At the Friday press conference, James T. Soukup, director of Durham Emergency Communications Center said while Huerta's sister advised dispatchers that her brother had attempted suicide, that incident was believed to be "some time ago." When dispatchers asked the sister if Huerta had any mental or physical problems officers should be aware of, Soukup said the sister answered no.
However, officers did know Huerta was troubled, according to the recordings.
"She's [The mother] going to get commitment papers for his drug use. He has a real problem for taking drugs and smoking. He went to a clinic for five days and kept using," one officer told another. (This is at the 1:15 mark in the file time stamped 2:47 a.m..)
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In an email to City Manager Tom Bonfield and Durham Police Chief Jose Lopez, Soukup wrote that these conversations were on the Police 2 channel. "This channel is used for car to car traffic and is not monitored by the DECC."
Toward the end of the recording that started at 2:47 a.m., Duncan says,
"10-4. See you in a bit."
Another officer asks: "Is he [Huerta] cooperative or not?"
"He's cooperative. A little tough, though," Duncan replied.
Between three and seven minutes later, Huerta died of a what police say was a self-inflicted gunshot wound while handcuffed in the back of the police car.