Demand for answers in Huerta case builds following DPD’s response to protests

Following the confrontation two weeks ago which featured the DPD teargassing protesters, tensions remain high and things are starting to get even more complicated.

First of all, despite initially fully defending the DPD’s actions at the protest, Lopez has now stated that there will at least be a review of the incident:

After any major police action in the city a thorough review of the incident is conducted. A review of this incident will include, but is not limited to, assessing the tactics used, intelligence gathered, videos, literature collected, feedback and deployment decisions before, during and after this event.

We will be hearing from others outside of the organization and will be transparent in communicating the findings.

Of course, transparency is one thing that the DPD doesn’t appear to be exceptionally good at right now, so I wouldn’t hold your breath on this one. Another “vigil” has been planned for January, and it will be interesting to see how the DPD dresses up for this one; I’m not really convinced that “riot gear” should be the new black.

As Lopez  seems to be the public face of this debacle, some Council members are starting to demand answers from his department. Steve Schewel issued a lengthy email to the Watts-Hillandale mailing list with some fairly strong words (this is a link is to a third party mirroring the text); I urge you to read the entire thing, but here are some tidbits:

… But I want to be equally clear that this provocation cannot be met by the kind of massive response of the police on Thursday night. This is not a law enforcement strategy that can succeed long-term, and it is not the kind of response that Durham wants. The police response was well intentioned. Instead of swinging night sticks at people, the police used first smoke and subsequently tear gas to disperse the crowd. This meant that no one got badly hurt, which was a real achievement. But it also meant that innocent people were terrified and sent reeling through our streets. I am deeply sympathetic to the police officers who reasonably fear people who advertise openly that they want to hurt the police. However, the kind of response Durham witnessed on Thursday night is not something that can be repeated.

So what should our community do? There is another vigil planned in a month, and the folks planning that vigil have every right to do so. We must use that month to prepare as a community and a City government to get it right this time…

… First, about truth. The entire truth about the death of Jesus Huerta must be known as quickly as humanly possible. Our police force has been waiting on the SBI’s independent investigation, and this was reasonable. However, the SBI is swamped with cases and grossly underfunded by the legislature, and they can’t turn around cases as quickly as we need them to. Whatever information is known from our police department’s own internal investigation should be released now. I spoke about this at length at the City Council meeting three days before the December 19 demonstration, and I continue to advocate for this.

… Some of you have written me about the future of Chief Jose Lopez. Chief Lopez works for City Manager Tom Bonfield, not for the city council. I have total and complete confidence in Tom Bonfield to evaluate the performance of the chief and to make the right decisions.

I find the comments about Bonfield especially interesting; he makes it clear that the Council isn’t directly in charge of Lopez’s employment status, but if the council really wanted Lopez gone I’m pretty sure Bonfield would have his head on a plate for them.

In addition to Schewel’s email, Bell has been talking to the press, and he’s also clamoring for some progress from the DPD:

“Tell us what they know and what they don’t know,” the mayor said. “They can tell us why they can’t provide answers – if they have dependencies on other agencies, I can understand that – but to just not do anything is not acceptable.”

… Huerta’s family and the public deserve answers, the mayor said.”Where did the gun come from? Why was it in the car? Who did it belong to?” he asked. “The longer it stays out there with no answers, it leads to more speculation.”

But while Council members seem to be content to let the DPD take all the heat, some citizens are wondering why no council members even bothered to show up at the vigil:

The next time there’s a vigil, “it would be appropriate for you and other Durham leaders to join it,” community activist Barry Ragin told Schewel after the councilman issued his letter.

… Ragin said council participation in the next march could both “marginalize those who are seeking to attach themselves to this cause for their own advantage,” and show support “for a grieving family that is seeking answers.”

Ragin’s words reflect a growing concern that a group of “anarchists” is using the Huerta case as a springboard to further its anti-police agenda, and there’s apparently good reason to believe that this is in fact the case. This situation seems to have drawn the attention of “outside agitators” (as the H-S called them) looking for a reason – any reason – to create conflict with the police, and every escalation now runs the risk of increasing its visibility among those groups.

According to a rumor I saw on Facebook, this is the text which was included on a flier distributed at the event. It’s some, um, scary shit. NB: rumor. I am not a journalist. Etc.

While we’re waiting for answers from Lopez, the DPD, and the SBI, one can do a bit of reading between the lines by observing the action on the sidelines. I think the most telling development in recent weeks is the fact that Samual Duncan, the LEO in question, has now lawyered up on the dime of the police union:

City Manager Tom Bonfield said officials learned that Duncan had obtained a lawyer when they talked to the state attorney general’s office several weeks ago about expediting the SBI investigation.

This is supposedly “not that uncommon,” and keep in mind that Duncan hasn’t been officially accused or charged with anything yet. The fact that he has a lawyer, though, indicates at least some degree of concern on the part of the Fraternal Order of Police that their man may be in for a rough ride.

And finally, in an extra-special-super tone deaf move, the DPD has removed the memorial to Huerta that had been placed at DPDHQ on Dec 19:

Sylvia Fernandez, mother of 17-year-old Jesus Huerta, on Monday went to put flowers at a memorial site at police headquarters that was established on Dec. 19, night of the most recent vigil and march in remembrance of her son.

“She was shocked to find it was all removed,” said Alex Charns, a lawyer who represents the family. “It was very upsetting to the family. It doesn’t cost anything for the city to make a grieving mother feel better. It was a hopeful sign that they had left it up.”

So what happens next? I don’t know. The SBI report is expected “soon,” and Bell’s deadline for answers from the DPD is January 6 or “Friday” (read “today”) according to TheDurhamNewsDotCom, so perhaps we’ll hear something from Lopez in the next few days.

Or perhaps not? He’s done a good job of keeping his mouth closed up to now – a lot of good that’s done him.

EDIT: according to WRAL, the DA now has the SBI report (sans autopsy details):

The State Bureau of Investigation completed its review of Huerta’s death on Thursday and handed its report over to the Durham County District Attorney’s Office. The full autopsy report isn’t yet completed and is the only missing element to the SBI report, according to a spokeswoman for the North Carolina Department of Justice.

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