Demonstrators demanding answers from police in Durham, North Carolina were met with armed resistance and tear gas on Thursday night, in what could be the first in a series of confrontations.
WNCN-TV reported that the protest questioned authorities’ possible role in the death of 17-year-old Jesus Huerta, who was found dead with a gunshot wound to the head in the back of a police car while handcuffed on Nov. 19.
Police have insisted the wound was self-inflicted, and Chief Jose Lopez said in a Friday press conference that findings from the State Bureau of Investigation back up that claim; the bureau reported “a saturation of gunshot residue” on a glove Huerta was wearing at the time of his death.
Huerta’s sister, Evelin Huerta, released a statement on Friday ripping both Lopez’s explanation and his department’s handling of the protest.
“The actions of the Durham Police Department last night, led by Chief Lopez, were a tried and true tactic to intimidate and spread fear in our community,” her statement read. “The Durham Police cannot be trusted to investigate my brother’s death, and we need a federal investigation. We call on Chief Lopez to resign immediately in light of his leadership that put dozens of armed police on the streets to scare residents and turned a memorial vigil into a war zone last night.”
The Durham Herald-Sun reported that about 150 people took part in the demonstration. When the protest march reached a police parking lot, they were met by police in riot gear, some of them carrying what appeared to be billy clubs, and ordered to disperse. Police also ordered the protesters to leave CCB Plaza downtown, before advancing toward them, ripping banners some members of the crowd were carrying, and using tear gas.
In a press release late Thursday night, Lopez praised his officers for showing “restraint and professionalism.”
“Some arrests were made and officers were forced to deploy teargas to disperse the crowd after rocks and bottles were thrown at the police,” Lopez’s statement read. “Although this was billed as a peaceful event, several participants donned masks, committed vandalism, assaulted officers and failed to heed commands to disperse.”
Protesters have since said they plan to continue to demonstrate on the 19th of every month to bring attention to the case.
Watch a report on the protest, as aired on WNCN on Thursday, below.