An Illinois city is launching an investigation into its police department following the death of a Black man in police custody last year, CBS station WBBM-TV reports. City leaders in Joliet, a Chicago suburb, agreed to hire a private attorney to conduct the independent investigation more than a year after the death of Eric Lurry, the station reported Tuesday.
Lurry, 37, was taken into custody during a drug arrest in January 2020. The county coroner's office called his death an accidental drug overdose, and local prosecutors said his death wasn't the result of officers' actions.
In video footage from a squad car camera obtained by WBBM-TV, a Joliet police sergeant, identified by the station as Doug May, is seen slapping Lurry's face while he was handcuffed in the back seat of the car. "Wake up, bitch," May says.
May then appears to pinch Lurry's nose closed for a minute and 38 seconds, WBBM-TV reports. Joliet police Sergeant Javier Esqueda, a training officer, told the station Lurry may have been chewing on a bag of drugs earlier in the video footage and officers wanted him to open his mouth.
"That's been written in the law for a couple years you can't do that anymore to try to get him to cough up any kind of drugs in their system," Esqueda told WBBM-TV in an interview broadcast last July.
Later, another officer is seen on the squad car video inserting a baton into Lurry's open mouth. Lurry is eventually taken to a hospital, where he was pronounced dead hours after his arrival.
In July, the coroner for Will County, which includes Joliet, said in a statement Lurry had "fatal doses" of heroin, fentanyl and cocaine in his system and called Lurry's death an accident. "The levels or concentrations were over 10 times the fatal range," Patrick O'Neil, the county coroner at the time, said in the statement.
O'Neil said the squad car video was reviewed before determining Lurry's cause of death. Also in July, the county prosecutor's office said in a statement that Lurry's death "did not result directly from any action or inaction by an officer of the Joliet Police Department."
Lurry's widow is suing the city and the officers involved in federal court, according to WBBM-TV.