Joliet Police Sgt Javier Esqueda (pictured) was placed on administrative leave on Monday after he exposed a video of a Black man dying in the back of a police car
An Illinois cop has been stripped of his badge after he exposed the death of a Black man who died in the back of a police car earlier this year.
Sergeant Javier Esqueda, a 27-year veteran of the Joliet Police Department, blew the whistle on Eric Lurry’s death last week by providing CBS2 with a video of officers holding the man’s nose and shut for nearly two minutes after arresting him in January.
The Will County Coroner determined that Lurry died of an ‘accidental overdose’ after swallowing a large quantity of drugs and said that police were not responsible for his death.
But the incident was brought back into the spotlight months later after Esqueda’s video emerged.
Parts of the audio in the footage are missing, prompting accusations that police may have tampered with it.
Esqueda was placed on administrative leave on Monday as calls for an independent investigation heightened, according to CBS2.
One police source told the outlet: ‘That’s what you get’ for going against the ‘blue wall of silence’.
Eric Lurry, 37, was arrested in a drug operation on January 29. Video provided to CBS2 showed Lurry appearing to choke as he sat handcuffed in the squad car while one officer held his nose shut and another stuck a baton in his mouth
The Will County Coroner determined that Lurry (pictured) died of an ‘accidental overdose’ after swallowing a large quantity of drugs and said that police were not responsible
Lurry, a 37-year-old father-of-three, was taken into police custody on January 29 in what was described by authorities as an undercover drug operation.
Footage recorded from the dashboard of the squad car he was riding in shows him appearing to chew on something as he sits in the backseat with his head leaned back.
Several minutes later he was unresponsive when officers attempted to pull him from the vehicle.
One officer in plain clothes, identified as Sergeant Doug May, then enters the vehicle and strikes Lurry in the face, saying: ‘Wake up, b***h.’
The audio cuts off as May pinches Lurry’s nose for one minute and 38 seconds while another officer is seen using a collapsible baton to try to pull an object they perceived to be choking Lurry from his throat.
Lurry was subsequently hospitalized and died hours later. The Will County Coroner said he had enough heroin, fentanyl and cocaine in his system to kill 10 people.
In the video officers are seen trying to pull an unresponsive Lurry out of the squad car before one officer, identified as Sergeant Doug May, slaps him in the face and says: ‘Wake up, b***h’
The audio cuts off as May pinches Lurry’s nose for one minute and 38 seconds while another officer is seen using a collapsible baton to try to pull an object from his throat
For the next five months police allegedly withheld information on Lurry’s death from lawyers for his wife Nicole, she told CBS2.
It wasn’t until Esqueda released the video that Nicole finally got some answers about her husband’s final moments.
Esqueda said he blew the whistle because he believes his department engaged in a cover-up.
‘On seeing that video, it was so disturbing, I cried,’ he told CBS2. ‘Every day, having to live with that was a hard thing, knowing that this administration was probably going to do nothing about it.’
‘He [Lurry] was suffocating. In my opinion, anybody would suffocate in that situation.
‘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 he believed the officers had cut off Lurry’s air supply in an attempt to get him to cough up a bag of drugs, but noted that such a maneuver was banned a few years ago.
Asked if it was a violation of police procedure, Esqueda said: ‘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.’
He also said he believed officers intentionally turned off the sound in the video, saying there was ‘no way’ it would have cut out on its own.
Esqueda described his reaction to the ‘disturbing’ video in an interview with CBS2
Esqueda at first did not want to reveal himself to be the person who released the video, but agreed to go on camera days later after Nicole shared her shock at what the footage showed.
The officer said he had ‘some fear’ of being fired for breaking protocol, but added: ‘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.
‘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.
Lurry, a 37-year-old father of two, is pictured in a mugshot from a prior arrest
‘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.’
Joliet Mayor Bob O’Dekirk expressed ‘grave concerns’ over how the Lurry case was handled last week after he watched the video, which he said had been withheld from him for five months.
‘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.
‘It was tragic. It certainly wasn’t necessary. I think everyone could agree with that, and I can definitely empathize with the family at this man.’
O’Dekirk said he has asked the Illinois Attorney General to come in and investigate actions by the Joliet Police Department.
The Attorney General’s office has yet to comment on the case.
Lurry’s family and their attorney vowed to hire their own expert to conduct a review of the autopsy and are planning to file a civil suit against the police department.