DURHAM: Family attorney wants interviews digitally recorded - WNCN: News, Weather

Huerta family attorney wants interviews digitally recorded

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The attorney representing the family of a teen who died while in police custody is asking for a follow-up investigation from the State Bureau of Investigation.

Attorney Alex Charns, who represents the family of Jesus Huerta, issued a statement Tuesday asking the SBI to digitally record follow-up interviews after the family presented evidence to the agent in charge of the investigation.

During the course of their investigation into Huerta's death in the backseat of a Durham Police cruiser in November, SBI agents met with family members in person and spoke with them by telephone on a number of occasions, the SBI said last week.

"At the initial meeting with the Huerta family, agents explained that the SBI's role in the case was to gather evidence to help determine whether or not Officer Samuel Duncan was criminally liable for Mr. Huerta's death and that the investigation would be turned over to the District Attorney who would decide whether criminal charges were warranted," SBI said in a statement.

However the SBI's statement conflicts with what Charns previously said when the family questioned "who the SBI talked to, who they failed to talk to and who they have historically served."

The SBI said it welcomed a meeting between its agents and the Huerta family, but Charns said Tuesday that they have "heard nothing from the SBI about their offer to meet."

"We sent evidence directly to the SBI special agent in charge this afternoon," Charns said. "This will allow the SBI to follow-up on the additional investigative area that we identified. This evidence was presented last week to the Office of the District Attorney."

Charns said the family is requesting the SBI use digital recording devices to document any additional interviews as opposed to using hand-written notes, which he said is common when agents interview witnesses.

He said the notes "are typed up in transcript form, though they are not transcripts."

"Instead, these notes contain some quotes and paraphrasing of the witness statements. This technique prevents prosecutors and anyone reviewing it to know how the interview was actually conducted," Charns said.

Charns said the SBI could record the witnesses' consent to the interview as well as the entire session. This digital documentation would allow the court system to access what actually occurred during the interview.

"To rely on note-taking alone is inexact and denies the court, prosecutors and all other interested persons in the judicial system access to the record of what actually occurred," Charns said.

Citing a lack of "criminal probable cause," Durham District Attorney Leon Stanback announced last week that no charges would be filed in the case involving Huerta's death.

In a statement, Stanback said his office reviewed "the complete State Bureau of Investigation file, the Chief Medical Examiner's report, relevant North Carolina State Crime Laboratory reports, physical evidence and forensic photographs" prior to making a decision.

Charns acknowledged that the decision to "charge another human being with a crime is a weighty one" and said the family did not have a comment on Stanback's decision.

However Charns said the family questions the SBI's investigation.

Stanback said the SBI's entire report will not be released publicly, but a copy would be provided to Huerta's family.



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