Joliet Mayor: 'Clearly, There Was Some Improper Behavior' By Officers On Video Of Eric Lurry Before He Died In Custody
JOLIET, Ill. (CBS) -- The video of a man who died in police custody in a Joliet has led to a call for an independent investigation.
On Thursday, Joliet Mayor Bob O'Dekirk talked to CBS 2 investigator Dave Savini, who broke the story about the video's existence this week.
The mayor said he was concerned about how the evidence was handled. He said CBS 2 obtained a cameras angle he never knew about, and audio is missing.
"Clearly, there was some improper behavior on that video, any way you slice it," O'Dekirk said. "They were things that police officers are not supposed to do."
What did Mayor O'Dekirk feel when he saw the video?
"I think it was tragic. It certainly wasn't necessary. I think everyone could agree with that," he said, "and I can definitely empathize with the family at this man."
Mayor O'Dekirk said our investigation into Lurry's death exposed new evidence that was never turned over to him or city lawyers that handle possible misconduct cases.
He knew a seven-minute squad car video from January had recently surfaced revealing how Lurry's ability to breathe was obstructed for a minute and 38 seconds, but was never told about another camera angle obtained by the CBS 2 Investigators.
It documents 13 people passing through.
Savini: "So you didn't even know about that other video?"
O'Dekirk: "I was told there is no other video, which is problematic."
And then there's another problem - all the audio that should be on recording just seconds after an officer slaps Lurry is missing.
Savini: "And you want know why there is no audio after the slap?
That means we can't hear a thing during the final moments, as one airway - Lurry's mouth - was closed and possibly filled with plastic, and his other airway - his nose – was held shut and also restricted from taking in oxygen.
On Wednesday, Savini talked to the man who blew the whistle on the videps, Joliet police Sgt. Javier Esqueda.
"He was suffocating," Sgt. Esqueda said. "In my opinion, anybody would suffocate in that situation."
Esqueda said it would take tampering to lose sound.
Esqueda: "It was almost like the supervisor looks off and says something to somebody, and then you hear the sound cut out. That's what alerted me that possibly, they were trying to get rid of evidence."
Savini: "So there was a deliberate, initial act to turn off the audio or get rid of the audio?"
Esqueda: "There had to be. There's no way that can happen."
Esqueda said when he found out about the video, he had to report it because Lurry's family and widow had a right to know.
"That was my soulmate, my best friend," widow Nicole Lurry said Tuesday, "and for him to just be gone in a blink of an eye, it just tears me up inside."
Savini: "Are you afraid that you might lose your job?"
Esqueda: "There's some fear. When you see stuff like this, you have to come forward. You can't sit there and be quiet, because then, we're just part of the problem."
Savini: "Why did you think it was important to blow the whistle on this?
Esqueda: "In light of everything that's' been happening - you know George Floyd really had a lot of us police officers. When we saw that video, a lot of us cried. People don't believe that. But the thing is, there are a lot of good officers out of 750,000. Not everybody is a bad cop. Most cops that I know were upset by George Floyd."
Mayor O'Dekirk said he has asked the Illinois Attorney General to come in and investigate.
The Attorney General's office has yet to comment in this case.
Meanwhile, the Will County Coroner's office released a statement Thursday concluding that Joliet police officers did not play a role in Lurry's death, and that a drug overdose was to blame.
The Coroner's office said following all homicide protocols since Lurry died in custody, it brought in an independent board-certified forensic pathologist to conduct the autopsy. A toxicology report indicated that Lurry "had fatal levels of heroin, fentanyl, and cocaine in his system. The levels or concentrations were over 10 times the fatal range," the Coroner's office said. His death was classified an accident due to the drug intoxication.
"It is the opinion of the Will County Coroner's office and the independent board certified forensic pathologist, who conducted the autopsy, that the Joliet Police Department officers played no role and shared no responsibility in the unfortunate and untimely accidental drug overdose death of Eric D. Lurry Jr.," the Coroner's office said in a statement.
Lurry's family and their attorney said they plan to bring in their own expert to conduct a review of the autopsy. A civil lawsuit and depositions are also expected.
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