Joliet Police Department

Joliet's Interim Police Chief Discusses Changes At Department Following Eric Lurry's Death

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One police department in the southwest suburbs is going through some major changes, including the ascension of a new interim police chief following the death of Eric Lurry, who died while in police custody in Jan. 2020. 

For the first time in the department's history, a woman has been appointed to lead the Joliet Police Department, as Lt. Dawn Malec has taken the reins after the retirement of Al Roechner.

"(I'm) grateful to be afforded this opportunity," said Malec. "I think we've got a lot of good things coming ahead."

Malec joined the department 26 years ago, and during her first week as the interim police chief made a change to bring in new personnel. 

"I felt it was necessary in order to move forward with my administration," she said. "Fresh eyes fresh perspectives."

It was over the summer when the Joliet Police Department made national headlines over a video showing Lurry's arrest.

Authorities say they took Lurry into custody on Jan. 29 during an undercover drug operation. In the initial video, 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.

"It's definitely coming up on a year soon," said Nicole Lurry, who is Eric Lurry's widow. "It's been an emotional rollercoaster for me and my family."

In the aftermath of the death, Roechner retired, and the department is now facing a federal lawsuit, filed by Nicole Lurry and her family, over her husband's death.

"We're just going to keep fighting and hopefully we can get justice that's what we're seeking," she said.

Community members for months demanded several deputy chiefs under the old administration to be fired. 

"There's no room for bad apples," said Stringer Harris, who has been advocating for Lurry's family. "These officers have peoples lives in their hands-- it's a matter of life and death."

Malec ended up demoting and promoting three officers into the role of deputy chiefs, including Lt. Sherri Blackburn. 

"I'm eager to get going," said Blackburn. "This is my second day so a lot of work ahead looking forward to taking a step in the right direction." 

Malec believes these steps are necessary to rebuild trust in the community and reassuring the public of police accountability. 

"Our department members will be held accountable to the highest standard that are expected," she said.

Malec says that she will also use her new role to push for new and improved equipment for officers, something she says can help not only protect them, but also the public.

"That's actually something that has been in the works for the past couple of administrations. It's a matter of finances, it's a matter of building policies and procedures and looking into the different avenues that are required, the different steps it takes-- its a process," she said. "But it's something that we do anticipate having moving forward. It's just a matter of when we can bring it all together."

The Joliet Police Department is conducting a search for a new police chief. Malec told NBC 5 she would be honored to serve on a permanent basis if given the opportunity. 

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