Watch CBS News

Illinois AG Launches Investigation Into Joliet Police Department; Sergeant Who Exposed Circumstances Of Eric Lurry's Death In Custody Has High Hopes

JOLIET, Ill. (CBS) -- Eric Lurry died in Joliet police custody in January 2020, and CBS 2 Investigator Dave Savini went on to expose accusations of a cover-up.

On Wednesday, there was a major new development – as the Illinois Attorney General stepped in with his own investigation.

It is often the coverup that gets police departments in trouble, and in this case, audio was tampered with and video concealed until a whistleblower came forward. Thus, the state is now launching an outside investigation into the Joliet Police Department.

"What I want to come out of this is transparency; the honesty, integrity that goes with the badge," said Joliet police Sgt. Javier Esqueda.

Esqueda spoke while looking across the Des Plaines River at the police department he once believed in.

"I want people to know that they can trust the Joliet Police Department and the officers - not be afraid of them," he said. "If anything, I want the department to be reformed."

The sergeant, now on desk duty, said he wants the Joliet Police Department to come clean on what he calls a culture of coverups - including the one on which he blew the whistle on last year.

Video shows officers taking Lurry into the back seat of a squad car with his hands behind his back. Officers are heard saying Lurry "has some explaining to do."

Joliet Police Department - Eric Lurry Death Investigation by Joliet Police Department on YouTube

An officer goes on to say Lurry "might have put a bunch in his mouth," referring to drugs.

Soon after that, Lurry is seen chewing on something in the back of the cruiser. About five minutes later, an officer who appears to be on the phone with an unspecified person is heard saying the officers plan to search Lurry before arriving at the lock-up.

When officers arrive at the police station – in a portion of the video that was released previously – the officers then start telling Lurry to get out, but Lurry won't. That is when a second officer slaps Lurry, holds his nose shut, and holds his neck.

"Hey wake up, bitch, let's get it over," the officer is saying upon slapping Lurry. "Open your mouth, open your mouth, open your mouth."

At 16:54 in the video, the audio abruptly cuts out. The department put text on the screen that claims the wireless mic stopped for some reason and that is under investigation.

Text on the screen also claims the officer slapped Lurry to "get his attention" in an attempt to get him to comply with demands. CBS 2 previously reported the officer's narrative says it was an accident, he meant to hit him in the shoulder.

Text on the screen also attempted to give an explanation for why an officer inserted a baton in Lurry's mouth.

In an interview with Esqueda last year, Savini asked him what the hardest part of watching that video was.

Esqueda's answer was, "The hardest part watching that video was watching another fellow sergeant slap him and calling him a bitch on that video – then going straight for his nose, cutting off his airway."

Lurry's airway was obstructed for one minute and 38 seconds. Esqueda spoke exclusively with the CBS 2 investigators in July of 2020. He said Lurry was seen "suffocating."

After Esqueda came forward, Illinois Attorney General Kwame Raoul was asked by the Joliet mayor to conduct an outside investigation into the police department.

"After reviewing publicly available information, and thousands of documents from the Joliet Police Department, we identified sufficient areas of concern to warrant initiating a pattern or practice investigation," Raoul said.

An official probe is now underway.

"Although this investigation will not reopen an investigation or issue findings about Mr. Lurry's death, we are committed to investigating whether there exists systemic patterns or practices of unlawful policing that must be addressed," Raoul said.

Savini asked Esqueda if he had high hopes about the investigation.

"Oh yeah," Esqueda answered, "really high hopes about this."

Esqueda believes the AG will unearth documents and uncover patterns and practices of going after any officer who speaks out. He had nothing to do with Lurry's death, but he was the one charged with crimes for releasing the videos to the public.

Savini: "What has being a whistleblower done to your life?"

Esqueda: "It's turned it upside down. I'm charged with four felonies."

Jeff Thomczak is Esqueda's attorney.

Thomczak: "I never thought it would go the point actually arresting and handcuffed him; charging him with a felony."

Savini: "You believe this case was about retaliation."

Thomczak: "I can't think of another case in 35 years where there's been this kind of retaliation against an officer."

Meanwhile, Esqueda worries about his own future.

Esqueda: "Every day, I worry about that I'm going wind up losing my pension; I'm going to lose my family because I'm going to be in jail."

Savini: "You still think about what happened to Eric Lurry."

Esqueda: "I don't sleep. I have hard time sleeping because of it."

Savini: "This is something that stays with you? It still makes you emotional?"

Esqueda: "Every single time."

The AG confirmed he met with Lurry's widow, Nicole Lurry, to explain he is not investigating any specific officers for criminal allegations involving her husband's death, but rather launching a broader probe into the entire department.

As to the officers involved, at the moment we know of one officer suspended for cutting off the microphone audio in the Lurry incident. The officer who slapped Lurry was also disciplined, but is back on the force.

Meanwhile, Esqueda is back in court in November, facing the criminal charges that could put him in prison for blowing the whistle on all this.

View CBS News In
CBS News App Open
Chrome Safari Continue
Be the first to know
Get browser notifications for breaking news, live events, and exclusive reporting.