A Joliet police officer was arrested and is being charged with two counts of official misconduct after he allegedly used a police laptop to download footage of the arrest of Eric Lurry, a Black man who died in police custody earlier this year.
According to a press release from the Joliet Police Department, Sgt. Javier Esqueda was taken into custody Wednesday morning on an active Kendall County arrest warrant. He faces two counts of official misconduct after he allegedly gained “unauthorized access and distributed a video” from the Lurry investigation.
That investigation was being handled by the Will-Grundy Major Crimes Task Force, and according to Joliet police, the release of the video “violated chain of custody and potentially compromised evidence” in the investigation.
“It is the mission of the Joliet Police Department to maintain the highest levels of integrity and professionalism. Sgt. Esqueda’s conduct violates not only the law, but more importantly, it threatens the trust and confidence we strive for daily in our service to the citizens of Joliet,” Police Chief Alan Roechner said in a statement. “Any negative actions reach far beyond one person, as it affects every member of our organization as well as our law enforcement partners.”
Esqueda, who was stripped of his police powers earlier this year, was released from custody after posting 10% of his $50,000 bond.
The official misconduct charges carry a potential prison sentence of two-to-five years, according to the sergeant’s attorney. The charges were filed in Kendall County, not Will County, because that is where Esqueda allegedly viewed and downloaded the footage.
Authorities say they took Lurry into custody on Jan. 29 during an undercover drug operation. In the initial video, which authorities allege Esqueda accessed and released, Lurry is seen chewing on something while sitting in the back of a police vehicle, and several minutes later, when officers attempted to pull him from the car, he was found unresponsive.
Police say they called paramedics for help after trying to wake Lurry up, and that they attempted to perform CPR on him before those paramedics arrived.
Lurry later died at an area hospital. The Will County Coroner’s Office ruled that Lurry died after swallowing a large quantity of drugs, and that the officers involved in the incident did not play a role in his death.
The conduct of two police officers shown in the video has prompted public outrage. The video, first obtained by NBC 5 and other media outlets over the summer, showed one officer cursing at Lurry and slapping him, while another put a collapsible baton into his mouth, apparently trying to pull out the item that Lurry had swallowed.
Lurry’s family has been critical of Joliet police, saying that they allegedly edited footage that they made public in the aftermath of the first disclosure, and that they have been slow to provide answers as to what happened to the man on the night that he died.
Illinois Attorney General Kwame Raoul’s office was asked to look into the incident by Joliet Mayor Bob O’Dekirk, and Illinois State Police are also investigating the incident.