JOLIET, Ill. (CBS)– Joliet police Sgt. Javier Esqueda blew the whistle on the death of Eric Lurry in police custody, and now he has been stripped of his police powers and placed on administrative leave.
Meanwhile Tuesday evening, there were growing calls to fire the two officers involved in Lurry’s death, and sources said the Joliet City Manager has quit.
As CBS 2 Investigator Dave Savini reported, Sgt. Esqueda said he thought he could lose his badge over all this, and he did lose it.
Protesters marched around the Joliet Police Department demanding justice for Lurry and praising Sgt. Esqueda, who risked his job to expose what he calls wrongdoing by fellow cops.
In the crowd was Lurry’s cousin, Effie Lee.
“He’s supposed to tell. That’s what police officers are supposed to do. He’s supposed to lead by example, and he did,” Lee said. “He said he cried for days seeing my cousin treated like that.”
“Seeing that video was so disturbing, I cried,” Esqueda said last week. “Every day, having to live with that was a hard thing, knowing this administration was probably going to do nothing about it.”
Sgt. Esqueda who blew whistle on the existence of the Joliet police video of the alleged misconduct involved with Lurry’s arrest was stripped of his police powers Monday.
Cop who blew whistle on death of #EricLurry is stripped of his badge. “That’s what you get,” says one source for going against the “blue wall of silence” Lurry had nose pinched shut for 98 seconds in cuffs. Police Sgt Javier Esqueda, a 27 year vet fighting for job. @cbschicago pic.twitter.com/E61I1pGqcQ
— Dave Savini CBS (@davesavinicbs2) July 7, 2020
The 27-year veteran told the CBS 2 Investigators in an exclusive interview with Savini last week that Lurry was the victim of police misconduct back in January. He said the video was kept under wraps ever since.
The video, obtained by CBS 2, shows Lurry’s nose held shut while in handcuffs for 1 minute and 38 seconds, while a police baton is in his mouth in the back seat of a squad car.
Lurry died in custody soon afterward.
“In my opinion, anybody would suffocate in that situation,” Esqueda said
There is audio missing, which has led to possible accusations of possible evidence tampering.
Sgt. Esqueda, known by the nickname Butch on by his fellow officers, had his badge, his gun, and his police car all taken away from him.
We asked Esqueda last week about the chance he could face retaliation for sounding the alarm about the video.
It shows the last moments of Lurry’s life in the back seat of a Joliet squad car.
Savini:: “Are you concerned? Do you fear that they’re going to come after you?”
Esqueda: “The person I fear is God. Other men, I don’t fear they’re going to come after me. Have at it. I did the right thing. I’m a good, honest cop.”
Esqueda says Lurry appears to be passing out with a piece of a torn plastic baggie lodged in the back of his mouth. Instead of calling for an ambulance immediately, an officer, Sgt. Doug May, hold his nose.
Savini: “Police officers across the country have been taking a lot of heat. There are a lot of people that are going to say, the country, the world needs a police officer like you right now.”
Esqueda: “You know, I hope the country sees it that way. There’s a lot of us that are hurting right now, with everything that went on, you know, George Floyd being killed by that officer. It hurt a lot of us.”
“I go to the cemetery to visit him two, sometimes three times a week,” said Lurry’s wife, Nicole.
Nicole Lurry said her husband didn’t need to die that way back in January. She thanks Sgt. Esqueda for speaking up about the existence of the video.
Lurry’s cousin Lee said the department needs to be investigated for his treatment and for what was done to Sgt. Esqueda.
“Somebody had to tell the truth,” she said. “If he didn’t tell the truth, nobody would ever have known what happened to my cousin.”
Savini: “Do you believe wholeheartedly that there was an attempt to cover all this up?”
Esqueda: “Yes I do, 100 percent.”
In a new development late Tuesday night, City Manager Steve Jones quit after an executive session meeting that followed an open Joliet City Council meeting Tuesday night at which the Lurry controversy video was discussed, sources told Savini.
There are several external cameras that were in a perfect spot outside of the Joliet Police Department to pick up what happened when he was pulled out of the squad car. We have asked for those videos, but Joliet police have not turned anything over to us, and it is not known whether the video exists.
Joliet Mayor Bob O’Dekirk has said he had “grave concerns” after watching the video, which he said was withheld from him for five months.
Lurry’s death, according to the Will County Coroner, was solely related to an “accidental overdose.” The coroner said police had no role in Lurry’s death.
In a statement issued late Tuesday, Roechner said during the auditing process on June 16, “it was learned that Sergeant Esqueda gained unauthorized access to a video that was being investigated by an outside agency, the (Will-Grundy) Major Crimes Task Force. This video that he accessed was shared outside the police department violating chain of custody and potentially compromising evidence in a criminal investigation. When this was discovered, I immediately opened a criminal investigation on June 18, 2020.”
Roechner’s statement said Esqueda was placed on administrative leave on Tuesday “due to him being under a criminal and an internal investigation. This was opened in regard to his unauthorized access to video evidence that was involved in a criminal investigation, which could have compromised the case.”
Sgt. May, who is seen in the video, was also placed on administrative leave on Tuesday pending the results of an internal investigation, Roechner said in the statement.
Joliet Police Chief has refused every attempt by Savini to talk to him about CBS 2’s findings – including phone calls and a visit to the police station.