Illinois whistleblower police officer placed on leave

CBS Chicago

A police officer in Illinois has reportedly been placed on leave and lost his badge after he told local media about his department’s alleged attempts to conceal footage of the arrest of Eric Lurry, a Black man who died in police custody earlier this year. 

According to CBS Chicago, Sgt. Javier Esqueda, an officer for the Joliet Police Department, lost his badge and has since been place on leave pending what Joliet Police Chief Al Roechner called a “criminal and an internal investigation.”

He said the action was taken after it was discovered the officer gained “unauthorized access to a video that was being investigated by an outside agency.”

The move comes a little more than a week after reports of the police department’s alleged cover-up of Lurry’s arrest, which happened in January, began to emerge. At the time, Joliet Mayor Bob O’Dekirk had told CBS Chicago that a whistleblower had come forward about the existence of footage of the arrest.

Esqueda later identified himself as the whistleblower in the case in an interview with the local CBS station.

In video of Lurry’s arrest, Lurry can be seen handcuffed in the back of a police vehicle.

Esqueda said Lurry, 37, seemed to be chewing something with his mouth closed at one point before an officer was seen appearing to hold Lurry’s nose — an attempt Esqueda told the station was maybe to prompt Lurry to open his mouth. Esqueda said Lurry, who a coroner later ruled had died of an accidental overdose, could have possibly had drugs in his mouth.

At one point moments before, an officer could also be seen hitting Lurry’s face and telling him, “Wake up, bitch.”

Esqueda told the station that “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.”

Though Esqueda acknowledges he is “no doctor,” he said he thinks Lurry was “suffocating” in the video. 

“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,” he told the station. 

“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, while adding he thinks the move violated protocol.

“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.

Lurry appeared to be unconscious in the video as an officer put a baton in his mouth and removed what Esqueda told the station looked like part of a plastic bag. He was reportedly pronounced dead later that day.

CBS Chicago reported that a local coroner determined police did not have role in Lurry’s death. 

However, Esqueda told the station he “100 percent” believes that there was attempt to cover up Lurry’s death. 

In his statement detailing Esqueda’s current status with the department obtained by the station on Tuesday, Roechner said the footage accessed by Esqueda “was shared outside the police department violating chain of custody and potentially compromising evidence in a criminal investigation. When this was discovered, I immediately opened a criminal investigation on June 18, 2020.”

He said a criminal and internal investigation was launched into Esqueda’s actions in “regard to his unauthorized access to video evidence that was involved in a criminal investigation, which could have compromised the case.”

Roechner also said Sgt. Doug May, the officer who recorded holding his hand on Lurry’s nose in the newly-uncovered footage, has also since been placed on leave and is under investigation as well.

Tags Eric Lurry Javier Esqueda Joliet Police Department

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