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North Carolina police say teenager in custody shot himself

DURHAM, North Carolina (Reuters) - A teenage suspect who died in North Carolina while he was handcuffed in the back of a police car shot himself in the head with a gun he hid from an officer, according to a police report released on Friday.

Jesus Huerta died on November 19 after he was arrested on an outstanding warrant for trespassing. His family had called authorities and reported that he ran away from home and requested police search for him.

Huerta's case triggered several protests in recent months over police conduct in Durham. The release of the report followed repeated calls from Huerta's family for more details about the circumstances of his death.

The preliminary results of the Durham Police Department's internal investigation indicate that an officer who arrested and searched Huerta failed to find a gun he had hidden on him.

In presenting the report, Deputy Police Chief Anthony Marsh used still photographs taken by Arkansas police in a case there to illustrate how a suspect might be able to shoot himself while handcuffed.

"Not only can it be done, it has been done," Marsh said.

Alexander Charns, a lawyer representing Huerta's family, dismissed the findings and called the report a "whitewash wrapped in a cover-up."

"The tiny truths in there are intertwined with half-truths and misdirection," he said in a statement.

According to the report, the police officer who arrested Huerta told investigators he warned the teenager several times to stop moving his handcuffed hands as he drove him back to police headquarters.

The officer said he thought he heard something rubbing against the car's plastic seats and believed it was the handcuffs, the report said.

As he pulled into police headquarters, the officer then heard a shot and jumped out of the car.

The officer said he found Huerta slumped over in the backseat and a semi-automatic .45-caliber pistol on the floor, the report said. Huerta was pronounced dead at the scene.

The gun was traced to a pawn shop in Georgia, the report said.

Police officials say they are still investigating any possible wrongdoing by the officer, who was placed on paid leave but is now doing administrative work. His car had a video camera that was not on at the time of the incident, the report said.

(Reporting by Marti Maguire; Editing by Kevin Gray and Ken Wills)

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