The family of a man who died in police custody is praising a decision by Illinois Attorney General Kwame Raoul to open an investigation into the practices and policies of the Joliet Police Department.
“After reviewing publicly available information and thousands of documents from the Joliet Police Department, we identified sufficient areas of concern to warrant initiating a pattern of practice investigation,” Raoul said.
The attorney general says that his office will investigate the department’s policies, training, practices and supervision as they relate to traffic and pedestrian stops, searches, arrests and uses of force.
The request for an investigation was made by Joliet Mayor Bob O’Dekirk and members of the Joliet City Council, according to the press release. Raoul says that the Joliet Police Department has been cooperative in providing documents and other materials to investigators.
“I appreciate the cooperative approach expressed by city and departmental leadership, as well as the proactive steps initiated by Chief (Dawn) Malec since her recent promotion,” he said.
The announcement comes nearly two years after the death of 37-year-old Eric Lurry, who died after he was taken into custody during a drug arrest in Jan. 2020.
Video footage from inside the squad car, obtained by NBC 5 and other media outlets, showed Lurry in the backseat of a police cruiser, with one of the arresting officers slapping Lurry’s face while he was handcuffed.
The officer then appeared to pinch Lurry’s nose closed for nearly two minutes, with officers saying they were trying to open Lurry’s mouth. Another officer is seen on video inserting a baton into Lurry’s mouth.
The man was eventually taken to a local hospital, where he was pronounced dead. The Will County Coroner’s Office determined that Lurry had “fatal doses” of heroin, fentanyl and cocaine in his system, and called his death an accidental overdose.
County prosecutors did not file charges against the police department, saying that Lurry’s death did not “result directly” from the officers’ actions.
The Attorney General’s Office investigation into the police department will examine the approaches and training of officers, not relitigate the Lurry death, according to officials.
“We are not here to second-guess or reopen that investigation,” Raoul said.
Lurry’s family says they are happy that an investigation will be launched into the department.
“The family is pleased to learn that almost two years after the death of their beloved Eric Lurry, efforts are underway to ensure that no other citizen within the city of Joliet will hopefully ever have to experience the tragedy that this family has faced,” Nicole Lurry, Eric’s wife, said in a statement.
The family also urged the Will County State’s Attorney’s Office to reconsider filing charges in the case. The Lurry family has previously filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the department in the case.
Raoul met with community leaders and the Lurry family on Wednesday after the investigation was announced.