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Joliet Police Field Training Sergeant Speaks Out On Why He Blew Whistle On Video Of Man Who Died In Custody

JOLIET, Ill. (CBS) -- A controversy has exploded over a video obtained by the CBS 2 Investigators.

The video has just now surfaced, even though the man who appears in it, Eric Lurry, died in the custody of Joliet police back in January.

It is another example of police departments across the country holding back on critical videos that raise questions about misconduct. But in this case, it was Joliet Police Department's own training sergeant who blew the whistle.

CBS 2 Investigator Dave Savini spoke exclusively to Sgt. Javier Esqueda, a 27-year veteran of the Joliet police force, about breaking the blue wall of silence.

The video that Sgt. Esqueda discussed is disturbing – showing another Black man who ends up dead in the hands of police. Esqueda, who still works for the department and blew the whistle anyway, had remarkable things to say in his conversation with Savini.

"He was suffocating," Sgt. Esqueda said. "In my opinion, anybody would suffocate in that situation."

"On seeing that video, it was so disturbing, I cried," Esqueda added. "Every day, having to live with that was a hard thing, knowing that this administration was probably going to do nothing about it."

Esqueda is the cop who blew the whistle on what he calls a five-month cover-up by his department. Esqueda sounded the alarm about two videos that captured the last moments of Lurry's life from January.

Savini: "You, a 27-year veteran a sergeant, blows the whistle. Why did you think that was important?"

Esqueda: "It's important for people to know that things like that can't be tolerated by police departments."

One video was recorded by an outside camera. It shows patrol officers and supervisors watching it happen.

But a camera inside the squad, which captured a video running seven minutes long, is the most critical in capturing how Lurry was treated - especially during a crucial span where his airway appears to be obstructed for 1 minute and 38 seconds.

It all started when a sergeant, Doug May – seen in plain clothes and a hooded sweatshirt - enters the vehicle and strikes Lurry in the face.

"Wake up, bitch," the plainclothes sergeant is heard saying.

Savini: "What was the hardest part about watching that, that you saw?"

Esqueda: "The hardest part about seeing that video, I was watching another fellow sergeant slap him and calling him a bitch on that video, then going straight for his nose and cutting off his airway."

Savini: "His nose was pinched and held tightly shut. What was happening at that moment?"

Esqueda: "He's suffocating. I'm no doctor. But if you put your hand on your nose that way, and someone covers your mouth and you can't breathe, think about the struggle."

Esqueda said Lurry appeared to be chewing something at first, and with his hands cuffed behind him, starts to close his eyes and become lethargic during his ride to the Joliet police station.

Esqueda said there was possibly a bag of drugs in Lurry's mouth, and the sergeant said officers were trying to get him to open his mouth using a maneuver to cut off his air supply.

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

He said the baton inserted into Lurry's mouth and toward his throat was also wrong.

Savini: "Was that a violation of police procedure?"

Esqueda: "Yes, I absolutely think so. 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."

Eric Lurry
(Credit: CBS 2)

Lurry, a 37-year-old father of three, was pronounced dead later that night at a hospital. But Sgt. Esqueda believes Lurry was already dead - one officer in the video eventually heads to the squad with a defibrillator.

"There obviously is a lot wrong with that video, and if anybody doesn't feel any pain by watching that, there's something wrong with them," Esqueda said.

He said he got the courage to show his face in an interview with Savini after seeing the story we broke Tuesday night about Lurry's widow - who didn't know videos existed until we told her we got a tip.

When asked what she knew, Nicole Lurry said: "I don't know anything. I don't know absolutely nothing. I can't get any answers from anyone."

Nicole Lurry said all she knew was what she saw - the final moments of her husband's life in the ICU."

"When I arrived to the hospital, I see my husband laying there on a ventilator in the emergency room, jerking, and tears coming out of his eyes," Nicole Lurry said.

Savini: "For that minute and 30-plus, minute and 38 seconds, what do you feel watching that?"

Esqueda: "Disgust, pain - because I think about, what if that was one of my relatives? What if that was my 7-year-old son? That somebody else's husband, someone else's son, someone else's grandchild. I was always taught, treat people it the street as if they were your family; how you would want your family treated by police."

While Eric Lurry's family continues to grieve, they still want answers as to what contributed to his death.

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