Durham, NC Police are claiming that a 17-year-old riding in a police cruiser last month committed suicide by shooting himself in the head while his hands were cuffed behind his back.
Durham’s police chief says that Jesus Huerta, the 17-year-old who died in police custody last month, shot himself in the head after he had been searched, handcuffed and placed in the back of a patrol car.
“I know that it is hard for people not in law enforcement to understand how someone could be capable of shooting themselves while handcuffed behind the back,” Chief Jose Lopez told reporters Wednesday. “While incidents like this are not common, they unfortunately have happened in other jurisdictions in the past.”
Lopez said that Officer Samuel Duncan picked up Huerta early on Nov. 19 in response to a call about a runaway and learned that he had a warrant out for his arrest on a second-degree trespassing charge.
By 2 a.m., according to police, Huerta was dead – his hands still cuffed behind him, slumped over in the back seat of the car outside the Durham Police Department – and a handgun was found in the floorboard of the patrol car.
An autopsy confirmed the self-inflicted gunshot wound.
It isn’t physiologically impossible for someone to commit suicide in the manner that police claim Huerta did, and perhaps just as importantly, there isn’t any reason that an officer transporting a teen on a minor charge would want to harm him or even could in the manner described. As fictional detective Sherlock Holmes stated, “when you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth.”
If the evidence supports this theory of Huerta’s death, there is still the troubling matter of the origin of the firearm. It was not a department-issued firearm, suggesting that Officer Duncan failed to find the gun in a search of Huerta before handcuffing him and placing the teen in the police car.
Expect this incident to end up being a very expensive one for Durham, in more ways than one.
Update: As someone pointed out in the comments on the Facebook page, this is very similar to the suicide of Chavis Carter in Arkansas. Carter was allegedly searched twice before being placed in a police car, where he produced a gun and shot himself in the head.
A reenactment using four different individuals shows just how easy it really is to commit suicide with your hands cuffed behind your back.
This is no way excuses a sloppy search of either suspect, but rather vividly illustrates that such a suicide is indeed possible.