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Independent Investigator To Probe Joliet Police Department Over Death Of Eric Lurry In Custody

JOLIET, Ill. (CBS) -- The Joliet Police Department is under investigation, following the controversial death of a Black man in custody.

City leaders in Joliet have agreed to hire a private attorney to launch an independent investigation into the police department.

All this came after CBS 2 Investigator Dave Savini first exposed the troubling arrest of Eric Lurry.

Police video obtained by CBS 2 shows Lurry in the back of a police car during a drug arrest in January 2020. Officers are seen pinching his nose, slapping him, and sticking a baton in his mouth.

Lurry died at a hospital days later.

Joliet police Sgt. Javier Esqueda was the one who blew the whistle on Lurry's death. Joliet police withheld the video of the arrest for five months.

He has said he believes the police department was trying to cover up the arrest.

"Yes, I do, 100 percent," Esqueda told Savini last summer. "I did the right thing, I am a good honest cop."

Lurry was later stripped of his police powers and placed on administrative leave, and in the fall, he was arrested and charged with two counts of official misconduct. He was indicted in December.

Then-Police Chief Alan Roechner said Esqueda's "unauthorized access to video evidence that was involved in a criminal investigation" is what ultimately led to him being placed on administrative duty. In one video clip Sgt. Doug May slapped Lurry, called him a "bitch" then pinched his nose shut. The video also shows police hitting Lurry while he was in handcuffs and putting police baton into his mouth.

After Lurry died, police said officers believed there was a bag of drugs in his mouth. But Esqueda told Savini earlier this year that even if that was the case, he doesn't believe the officers should've taken actions that could have cut off Lurry's air supply.

"That's been written in the law for a few years," Esqueda said last year. "You can't do that anymore to try to get them to cough up any kind of drugs in their system."

"I can't think of anywhere where I was taught CPR or in the academy where you slap a man, call him a bad name, cut off his airway, go for his throat," Esqueda added last year. He said he cried when he saw the video.

The Will County Coroner's Office ruled Lurry's death was due to heroin, fentanyl and cocaine intoxication. The autopsy report obtained by CBS 2 does not mention whether squad car video was reviewed before the coroner's office issued its ruling in March.

Joliet finally released three hours of video related to the investigation last July.

Lurry's widow has also filed a federal lawsuit against the city and the four officers involved.

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