As protests against police brutality began take hold across the country, calls to abolish the police have grown louder and louder. This is partially attributed to the fact that the police themselves don’t seem interested in meaningful reform or calling out the rot in their own organization. When an officer does speak out against wrongdoing, they are often punished, which is the case for an Illinois police officer who blew the whistle on a man who died in police custody
CBS 2 reports that Joliet Police Sgt. Javier Esqueda has been placed on administrative leave and stripped of police powers after leaking video of Eric Lurry’s death in police custody. The video from Jan. 29 showed Lurry suffocating in police custody while one officer held his nose and another shoved a baton into his mouth for over 90 seconds. Esqueda told CBS 2 that he expected the department to retaliate but wasn’t afraid. “The person I fear is God. Other men, I don’t fear they’re going to come after me. Have at it. I did the right thing. I’m a good, honest cop,” Esqueda said.
This move comes as calls continue to grow in Joliet for the officers involved in Lurry’s death to be fired. On Tuesday evening, protests were held around the Joliet Police Department by people who want justice for Lurry. Joliet Mayor Bob O’Dekirk has said the video was withheld from for over five months and has expressed “grave concerns” about what he saw. Joliet Police Chief Al Roechner issued a statement explaining why Esqueda was placed on leave.
From CBS 2:
In a statement issued late Tuesday, Roechner said during the auditing process on June 16, “it was learned that Sergeant Esqueda gained unauthorized access to a video that was being investigated by an outside agency, the (Will-Grundy) Major Crimes Task Force. This video that he accessed 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.”
Roechner’s statement said Esqueda was placed on administrative leave on Tuesday “due to him being under a criminal and an internal investigation. This was opened in regard to his unauthorized access to video evidence that was involved in a criminal investigation, which could have compromised the case.”
Over the weekend, Will County Coroner Patrick O’Neil said that the two officers seen in the video “played no role and shared no responsibility” in Lurry’s death, according to NBC 5. The coroner attributed Lurry’s death to an accidental overdose due to a large amount of drugs he swallowed during the arrest. Despite this finding, Mayor O’Dekirk has requested Illinois Attorney General Kwame Raoul to conduct an investigation into Lurry’s death.
Lurry’s family has expressed gratitude to Esqueda for leaking the video. “He’s supposed to tell. That’s what police officers are supposed to do. He’s supposed to lead by example, and he did,” Effie Lee. Lurry’s cousin, told CBS 2.