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Illinois city launches investigation into police more than a year after death of black man

A Chicago suburb has launched an independent investigation into the local police department in connection with the January 2020 death of a black man, who was seen on video being slapped by an officer and having his nose pinched shut during a drug arrest.

Eric Lurry, 37, died in the hospital after being picked up by the police on January 29, 2020, in Joliet, which is located about 30 miles southwest of downtown Chicago.

The Will County Coroner later determined that Lurry died of an ‘accidental overdose’ after swallowing fatal quantities of heroin, fentanyl and cocaine, and said that arresting police officers were not responsible for his death.

Nearly 16 months after Lurry’s death, Joliet Mayor Bob O’Dekirk and City Manager Jim Capparelli have retained a private attorney to conduct an independent investigation into the Joliet Police Department’s handling of the case.  

The City of Joliet, Illinois, has hired a private attorney to conduct an independent review of the local police department’s handling of Eric Lurry’s case. The screenshot above shows the man during his arrest in January 2020 

Dashboard camera shows one police officer pinching Lurry's nose for nearly 2 minutes, while another sticks a metal baton in his mouth

Dashboard camera shows one police officer pinching Lurry’s nose for nearly 2 minutes, while another sticks a metal baton in his mouth 

‘I think it’s important we get a disinterested third party to do a top-to-bottom review of the investigation, to know how we conducted our internal investigations and how we can improve our policies and procedures,’ Capparelli told Joliet Patch

Lurry, a married father-of-three, died in the hospital after his arrest. A coroner determined that he died of an 'accidental overdose' after swallowing fatal quantities of heroin, fentanyl and cocaine

Lurry, a married father-of-three, died in the hospital after his arrest. A coroner determined that he died of an ‘accidental overdose’ after swallowing fatal quantities of heroin, fentanyl and cocaine

The  move comes nearly a year after police whistleblower Sgt Javier Esqueda released dashboard camera video from the night of Lurry’s arrest to WBBM-TV, which showed Sgt Doug May slapping the man in the face as he sat handcuffed in the back of a patrol vehicle.

‘Wake up, b****,’ May is heard telling Lurry.

In the video, May appears to pinch Lurry’s nose shut for 1 minute, 38 seconds while telling him, ‘Open your mouth.’ For an unknown reason, most of that portion of the video has no sound.

Another officer then inserts a baton into Lurry’s mouth to try to pull an object he perceived to be choking the man from his throat.

Moments later, Lurry appears to lose consciousness and collapses onto the backseat as officers attempt to shake him awake.

Esqueda said Lurry may have been chewing on drugs earlier and the cops wanted to remove the narcotics from his mouth.

Joliet police Sgt Doug May in January 2021 was suspended seven days for his conduct during Lurry's arrest a year prior.

May slapped Lurry in the face and called him a 'b****'

Joliet police Sgt Doug May (left) in January 2021 was suspended seven days for his conduct during Lurry’s arrest a year prior. May slapped Lurry in the face and called him a ‘b****’

Lurry, a father-of-three, was subsequently hospitalized and died hours later. 

County Coroner Patrick O’Neil later concluded that Lurry had enough drugs in his system to kill 10 people. 

Police whistleblower Sgt Javier Esqueda, who released the dashcam video last July, was later stripped of his badge and criminally charged

Police whistleblower Sgt Javier Esqueda, who released the dashcam video last July, was later stripped of his badge and criminally charged

Esqueda said last year 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.’

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, a 28-veteran on the force who described himself as a ‘good, honest cop,’ was subsequently stripped of his badge and placed on administrative leave. 

In October 2020, Esqueda was arrested and charged with two counts of official misconduct, and he was formally indicted on those charges in December. 

Meanwhile, Joliet Patch reported that In January 2021, Sgt May was handed a seven-day suspension for his conduct during Lurry’s arrest a year prior. 

Esqueda said he believes his department engaged in a cover-up

Esqueda said he believes his department engaged in a cover-up

Outgoing Joliet Police Chief Al Roechner wrote in a memo to May: ‘you used disrespectful language, slapped and made other contact with an arrestee. The complaint has been investigated and on the basis of available evidence has been found to be sustained in part and not sustained in part.’

May also has been removed from the police department’s drug unit and reassigned to a supervisory position at the police station. 

May was among four officers who were named defendants in a federal civil rights lawsuit that was filed last August on behalf of Lurry’s widow, Nicole Lurry.

The complaint alleged that May suffocated Lurry to death, and that the Joliet police later covered it up by tampering with, concealing, or destroying evidence.


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