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New questions over Durham police protest

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Durham Police set off tear gas canisters downtown on Thursday night. Durham Police set off tear gas canisters downtown on Thursday night.
DURHAM, N.C. -

City officials in Durham are questioning how police handled a protest and vigil on Thursday night that led to the use of tear gas and six arrests. 

More than 100 people marched in Durham questioning police accounts of how 17-year-old Jesus Huerta died in the backseat of a police cruiser.

Durham City Councilor Eddie Davis says police have not been open enough with the public about the case and says he has not heard a good reason as to why police set off tear gas canisters during the most recent protest.

"I just think that we have not had a full and open report from the police," Davis said.

Davis hopes to hear more from Chief Jose Lopez about the death of Huerta and about the confrontation with protestors.

"Obviously the police were ready for that because they had on gas masks themselves," Davis said, "but the people who were exercising their constitutional rights did not have that benefit."

Lopez has said some in the crowd threw rocks and bottles at police. In the early morning hours of November 19, Lopez said Officer Samuel Duncan had picked up Huerta, after his family reported he had run away from home. It was then Officer Duncan said he found a previous warrant out on Huerta for trespassing. Lopez said an investigation showed Huerta shot and killed himself, even though he had been searched and handcuffed from behind.

Martin McLamb, a retired Raleigh homicide detective, tells WNCN he questions whether someone could shoot themselves from behind.

"It's possible, but not probable," McLamb said.

He also questions if officers searched Huerta thoroughly.

"You search. You thoroughly search. And then you handcuff anybody that's arrested before you put them in that patrol car behind you," McLamb said. "Unfortunately, it was my experience, that weapons got by them."

As for the use of tear gas on Thursday, McLamb says officers had a right to use it if they truly felt threatened, but says it's only fair that decision now come under scrutiny.

"You would like to really believe what you're doing is right and that it can never be questioned later on," he said. "Unfortunately, that's unrealistic."

On Sunday night, Chief Lopez took to Facebook to address criticism of the police response on Thursday night. He said a full review of police actions would take place, adding they will work to be as prompt as possible and said the department will learn from the incident.

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Derick Waller

Derick is a reporter for WNCN covering crime, education, politics and just about everything in between. He has a knack for adapting to any story and consistently delivers information quickly across multiple platforms. More>>

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