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Tuesday, January 14, 2014

WCPSS will not make students retake CTE Exams

Posted by on Tue, Jan 14, 2014 at 5:21 PM

Following a technology failure Monday in the statewide Career and Technology Education (CTE) testing hardware, high school students in Wake County whose exams were interrupted by the glitch will not have to retake the test, but may choose to if they want.

Public relations director for Wake County Public Schools Renee McCoy confirmed that WCPSS students were affected by a malfunction in the hardware that caused the program to time out while students were in the middle of taking the exam.

“WCPSS will use other performance measures to evaluate students’ over-all skill level,” McCoy said in a statement, adding that students will not need to retest.

But some students already completed the CTE exam.

According to the mother of a Leesville Road High School student (her son did not take the CTE exam), the school’s principal left an automated message Tuesday morning stating that students whose exams were interrupted will be assessed based on their coursework and will not have to sit for the exam again. For students who were able to complete the exam, the results will count for 20 percent of their grade in their course.

“Not all students’ grades would be calculated in the same way,” wrote Leslie Stahlhut in an email. “I am concerned that there is no parity in the grades. My guess is, students who completed the exam in the first sitting will have the lowest grade averages…Students who choose to sit for the exam after having seen the first exam should have the highest group average because someone bombing the exam will have knowledge that it will not improve his or her grade and will elect not to take it.”

Joanne Honeycutt, the CTE director at North Carolina’s Department of Public Instruction, said that a student’s classroom performance is a good indicator of how they will score on the CTE exam.

“In affirming the scores of the exam, our process takes into account the anticipated grades of the student,” Honeycutt said Tuesday. “Scaling a range over time as we validate those scores, we find that the scales are consistent with students’ performance in the classroom. We generally do not see that students on final exams score dramatically differently than in their classroom performance.”

Honeycutt said she understands the frustrations of students, teachers and parents and NC DPI is working to make the products better, noting that in the three years the CTE performance assessment program has been in use in North Carolina, students have not experienced any problems.

“This was an unfortunate and unforeseen hardware failure,” Honeycutt said. “We are giving advice to school districts so students will not be penalized because of this.”

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    Students may choose to resit exam; their final scores should not be affected.

Durham DA: No charges will be filed in Huerta case

Posted by on Tue, Jan 14, 2014 at 2:25 PM

This afternoon Durham District Attorney Leon A. Stanback released a statement announcing his office will not issue criminal charges in the case of Jesus Huerta, the 17-year-old who shot himself while handcuffed in the back of a police cruiser last November. Stanback’s announcement comes after his office reviewed the State Bureau of Investigation’s preliminary report. Last Friday, the Durham Police Department publicly released its own Professional Standards Division report.

Following is Stanback’s statement:

On November 19th, 2013, 17 year-old Jesus Huerta Fernandez died of a close range gunshot wound which grazed his lower lip and perforated his skull while in the custody of the Durham City Police Department. In addition to the internal criminal and administrative investigations by the Durham Police Department, an external and objective investigation by the North Carolina State Bureau of Investgation was initiated.

After having received and 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; the Durham County District Attorney has found that there is not probable cause to charge a crime in Jesus Huerta’s death.

Our condolences go to the grieving family and friends of Jesus Huerta Fernandez.

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    Stanback finds no evidence of probable cause

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Durham Police chatter reveals what officers knew about Jesus Huerta's mental state

Posted by on Tue, Jan 14, 2014 at 10:13 AM

Durham Police knew that Jesus Huerta may have been mentally unstable when Officer Samuel Duncan picked him up at the corner of Washington and Trinity streets on Nov. 19, according to recordings released to City Council late yesterday afternoon. However, at a press conference on Friday, the department released results of an internal investigation indicating that officers did not know of his mental state, including previous attempts to commit suicide.

The N&O reported this information earlier this morning.

At the Friday press conference, James T. Soukup, director of Durham Emergency Communications Center said while Huerta's sister advised dispatchers that her brother had attempted suicide, that incident was believed to be "some time ago." When dispatchers asked the sister if Huerta had any mental or physical problems officers should be aware of, Soukup said the sister answered no.

However, officers did know Huerta was troubled, according to the recordings.
"She's [The mother] going to get commitment papers for his drug use. He has a real problem for taking drugs and smoking. He went to a clinic for five days and kept using," one officer told another. (This is at the 1:15 mark in the file time stamped 2:47 a.m..)

In an email to City Manager Tom Bonfield and Durham Police Chief Jose Lopez, Soukup wrote that these conversations were on the Police 2 channel. "This channel is used for car to car traffic and is not monitored by the DECC."

Toward the end of the recording that started at 2:47 a.m., Duncan says,
"10-4. See you in a bit."
Another officer asks: "Is he [Huerta] cooperative or not?"
"He's cooperative. A little tough, though," Duncan replied.

Between three and seven minutes later, Huerta died of a what police say was a self-inflicted gunshot wound while handcuffed in the back of the police car.

Read Friday's coverage of DPD's report about the Huerta case.
Here is a copy of the medical examiner's report: medical_examiner_report.pdf
And the toxicology report: Toxicology_report.pdf
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    Officers discussed his mother's concerns about having Huerta committed

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Monday, January 13, 2014

Starkweather bows out of state House bid

Posted by on Mon, Jan 13, 2014 at 2:54 PM

As it turns out, Jeff Starkweather, a civil rights attorney and former newspaper publisher from Pittsboro, will not be seeking the Democratic party nomination for the vacant District 54 seat in the N.C. House of Representatives.

As reported in INDY Week last week, party leaders had indicated Starkweather would be seeking to replace Deb McManus, a first-term lawmaker who stepped down in December after state revenue officials accused her of embezzling more than $47,000 in state tax revenues. But in a statement delivered to party leaders Thursday, Starkweather—who ran against McManus for the party nomination in 2012—said he would instead be supporting former Chatham County Commisssioner George Lucier for the post.

"I will certainly be getting back to you for help with the 2014 critical county commissioner and school board races," Starkweather said in the statement. "But it is critical now that we put someone in this seat that can provide experienced and knowledgeable progressive leadership."

Lucier would appear to be one of a handful of Democrats jousting for selection by the party's Executive Committee. The district, which includes Chatham County and a small portion of neighboring Lee County, will need a replacement for the remainder of McManus' term, which expires at the end of 2014.

Other Democrats in the running include James Heymen, a mental health counselor from Pittsboro; Cedric Blade of Siler City; Robert Reives II, an attorney from Sanford; Kathie Russell, a former Chatham school board member from Moncure; and Tim Weiner, a physician from Siler City.

The Executive Committee is set to pick McManus' fill-in on Jan. 24 from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. at the Historic Chatham County Courthouse in Pittsboro. Gov. Pat McCrory is expected to accept the party's nomination.

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    Civil rights lawyer from Chatham County says he will not seek to replace resigned N.C. House Democrat Deb McManus.

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Troubled man breaks windows in former Jack Tarr motel in downtown Durham

Posted by on Mon, Jan 13, 2014 at 9:02 AM


People heading downtown this morning may have heard the sound of broken glass falling from the top floor of the former Jack Tarr motel, after a man began yelling, breaking his windows and throwing his belongings to the sidewalk below.

According to a parking garage attendant, the man, whom he described as "quiet and humble," had lived at the motel for "quite a while."  The attendant said he heard the man yelling at around 5 this morning. Then, the attendant said, he broke the windows to his room. 

The sidewalk below was littered with glass, clothing and shoes.

Several people live at the motel, which is across the street from CCB Plaza. 

Corcoran Street is closed between Parrish and Chapel Hill streets while police investigate and downtown Ambassadors, who help clean the streets work at the scene.


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    One block of downtown closed after disturbance near CCB Plaza

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Friday, January 10, 2014

Durham Police investigation: Huerta shot self in patrol car

Posted by on Fri, Jan 10, 2014 at 4:56 PM

From the moment of the 9-1-1 call reporting Jesus Huerta as a runaway, to his death 44 minutes later in the back of Durham Police Car No. 225, law enforcement made several pivotal decisions. Any one of them, in retrospect, could have changed the arc of a boy's life, a family's grief and the fate of a rookie police officer.

At a press conference this afternoon, Durham police released findings of an internal department investigation into Huerta's death at just before 3 in the morning on Nov. 19. 

This is what happened, according to the investigation into police protocol and procedures: Jesus Huerta, 17, who had previously attempted suicide, killed himself with a black Haskell .45 caliber pistol while handcuffed in the back of a police car.

This is what didn't happen:
  • Although Huerta's sister advised the 9-1-1 dispatcher that Huerta had been suicidal, this information was not relayed to the patrol officers.
  • Officer Samuel Duncan, who had been with the department 16 months and just completed the final independent phase of his field training, did not find the gun on Huerta during a pat-down and search.
  • Although Duncan heard "the sound of something rubbing against the plastic backseat area" of the patrol car on the way to headquarters, he chose not to stop and search Huerta more thoroughly because they were almost to the station.
  • And after shutting off his car to apprehend Huerta, Duncan did not reactivate the on-board video camera. As a result, there is no video documentation of Duncan's search and transport of Huerta to police headquarters, where the boy shot himself while Duncan drove him into the parking lot.
police_report.pdf (Editor's note: We removed page 5 from the report because it contained the Huerta family's phone number.)

Huerta's death and that of Jose Ocampo, who was killed by an officer last spring—that investigation is also ongoing—have drawn criticism from city officials, who say more transparency is needed from the department, and outrage from the family and many community members, who suspect police misconduct and a coverup. On Nov. 22, a peaceful vigil became violent when some protesters threw firecrackers and vandalized windows at DPD headquarters.  And on Dec. 19, a second vigil also went south when police showed up in riot gear and tear gassed demonstrators, only some of whom had thrown rocks and bottles at officers. 

DPD's Professional Standards Division is investigating possible violations of several polcies, including how Duncan transported and searched Huerta, the death of Huerta in his custody and the operation of the onboard video camera. The State Bureau of Investigation is conducting its own inquiry; both the SBI and DPD are waiting for the state medical examiner's final report toxicology results before issuing additional findings. [Update 12:57 a.m.: WNCN is reporting results of the medical examiner's report late Friday, which states Huerta died of a gunshot would in the mouth. The bullet was found in the right side of the patrol car above the back seat. Huerta had a hole in his jacket over the right portion of his chest. No alcohol was detected in his system.]
Cpt. Laura Clayton, commander of DPD's professional standards division - JUSTIN COOK
  • Justin Cook
  • Cpt. Laura Clayton, commander of DPD's professional standards division

Officer Duncan's 12-hour shift began at 5:45 p.m. on Monday, Nov. 18. Before heading to patrol the streets that evening, he inspected Car No. 225 to ensure it was functioning properly and that no contraband had been left by the previous user. Nor did Duncan store any of his personal items in the vehicle.

Car 225 had not been used during the day shift, and the previous officer, O. Ortiz, told investigators he had transported only one person his the car in the back seat—a pregnant woman—whom he had searched. Ortiz also searched the back seat after she got out and noted no contraband.

At 2:10 a.m., nearly eight hours into Duncan's shift, the Durham Emergency Communications Center received a 9-1-1 call from Huerta's sister, saying her brother, who had been suicidal in the past, had run away. However, Huerta's mental condition was not relayed to officers, center director James T. Soukup said today, because "it was perceived by the 9-1-1 dispatcher that it had happened in the past." The dispatcher asked Huerta's sister if Huerta suffered from any physical or mental conditions, Soukup said, and she said no. "That's why the information didn't get relayed."

Several officers patrolled the area of Washington Street and Trinity Avenue, while another officer spoke to the family about the boy. At 2:30 a.m., Officer Duncan and Office Beck spotted two teens near that intersection, Huerta and Jaime Perez.

Huerta, officers learned, had an outstanding warrant for trespassing; Duncan took him to custody for the misdemeanor warrant and handcuffed him behind his back. According to two officers, Duncan frisked Huerta's pants and jacket pockets and found no contraband. Perez told investigators that Duncan only patted their pockets and looked in their coats. Duncan then seized Huerta's backpack, and put the boy in the back of the patrol car.

Officer Beck, who had been questioning Perez, noticed that Huerta had moved his cuffed hands from behind his back to behind his knees. Beck told Duncan, who told Huerta to return his cuffed hands behind his back, which he did. Then Duncan, who had not restarted the video camera since turning off his car more than a half hour prior, began driving Huerta the one mile to police headquarters. 

During the trip, which takes about three minutes to drive, Duncan heard the sound of something scraping against the plastic back seat. He asked Huerta to stop making that noise, and Huerta responded that he had a "wedgie" and felt uncomfortable. Duncan thought Huerta may have been trying to hide or discard drugs and later told investigators that had he not been so close to the police station, he would have stopped and searched Huerta more thoroughly.

"In the parking lot … shots fired!" Duncan yelled into his police radio.
At 2:54 a.m., Duncan arrived at police headquarters and pulled into the parking lot from Chapel Hill Street. He then heard a loud noise that appeared to be a gunshot inside the car. Duncan thought he was being shot at, so he jumped out of the car while it was still in drive. It collided with a parked van in the parking lot. Officer Harris, who was in the lot, told him that his prisoner was shooting at him. Both officers approached the wrecked patrol car with guns drawn and opened the rear seat door.

Huerta was slumped over in the rear seat with his handcuffs behind his back. The .45 was lying on the floor board in front of the right back seat. Huerta had shot himself in the head. At 2:56 a.m., according to the event log, it was noted Huerta "was not breathing." Paramedics pronounced him dead at the scene.

Continue reading…

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    Durham Police release first findings of Jesus Huerta investigation

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Tuesday, January 7, 2014

More tumult at natural sciences museum

Posted by on Tue, Jan 7, 2014 at 4:15 PM

There have been more seismic shifts at the N.C. Museum of Natural Sciences. Brian Rosborough, founder of Earthwatch, one of the earliest environmental groups, has resigned as the head of the museum’s 24-member Citizen Science Council, the INDY confirmed Tuesday.

Five other council members also reportedly resigned, although the INDY is not listing their names until they can be confirmed.

The Citizen Science Council is charged with providing science advisers for the museum. It meets twice a year and invites outside speakers to discuss scientific trends.

Rosborough, who lives in Concord, Mass., told the INDY by phone that after two years, it became difficult for him to lead the council from afar. In addition, Rosborough said, when Emlyn Koster became museum director, “he had his own ideas, as is his right.”
However, in an email to council members and museum leadership obtained by the INDY, Rosborough’s tone was more direct, noting his decision was made “with some regret”: “With the interest of the Museum of Natural Sciences in mind, I am relinquishing my responsibilities as council chair … I think it best as the director and I have divergent views on the independence and support of the council, making this the easiest path forward.”

Mark Johnson, external affairs director for the museum, did not return calls seeking comment on Rosborough’s or the other council members’ resignations.

In the email, Rosborough alluded to Koster’s desire to control the council, which thus far had worked independently. “As is his right, the director prefers that the Citizen Science Council should follow state rules with all appointments and agendas filtered by him and managed by his office.

“I believe that the independence of the Council is its strongest contribution to the museum it’s staff and stakeholders, and especially the director who deserves and will need diverse and independent oversight to properly discharge his responsibilities.”

N.C. State University Dean of Sciences Dan Solomon, who is on the nominating committee, could not be reached for comment. A new chairman is expected to be named at the next council meeting, March 27.

Rosborough was recruited by former museum director Betsy Bennett and recommended by Meg Lowman, a leading scientist and former director of the Nature Research Center. “I had a splendid first year,” Rosborough told the INDY.

However, after Koster became museum director in January 2013, he reassigned Lowman from the Nature Research Center to a lesser position, senior scientist and director of academic partnerships and global initiatives. She left the museum in November to become the Chief of Science and Sustainability at the California Academy of Sciences. Many of the other council members who reportedly resigned were colleagues and friends of Lowman. 

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    Brian Rosborough resigns as head of Citizen Science Council; five others reportedly also left

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