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Local News

Criminal probe launched against leaker cop: chief

The Joliet Police Department can be seen Wednesday, July 1, 2020, in Joliet, Ill.
The Joliet Police Department can be seen Wednesday, July 1, 2020, in Joliet, Ill.

A Joliet police sergeant placed on administrative duties for leaking squad car video of an arrested man's fatal overdose is the subject of a criminal probe, Police Chief Al Roechner revealed.

Sgt. Javier Esqueda was sent to work in the records section of the police department Monday, Roechner said, "due to the fact that he is under criminal investigation and an internal affairs investigation.

"He's in here (the police department) but he doesn't have access to anything," Roechner said.

While Roechner said he could not comment on the internal affairs investigation, he described the reason for the criminal investigation and said it started nearly three weeks ago.

"Sgt. Esqueda gained unauthorized access to a video that was being investigated by an outside agency in a criminal matter," Roechner said. "The video that was accessed was shared outside the police department, violating chain of custody and potentially evidence in the criminal matter. When this was found out on June 18 of 2020, I immediately opened a criminal investigation."

The video in question shows Eric Lurry, 37, riding to the police department after he was arrested at what police said was the scene of a drug deal in January.

Lurry apparently loses consciousness while sitting alone in the rear seat of a squad car. Police officers in the video can be heard saying that Lurry appeared to have something in his mouth after he is put into the car, and he can be seen regularly chewing before starting to lose consciousness as the vehicle arrives at the station.

After a uniformed officer is unable to get Lurry out of the car, an undercover officer comes into the picture and appears to be trying to wake him up.

The undercover officer slaps Lurry at one point and says, "Wake up (expletive)." The uninformed officer is seen using his baton to probe Lurry's mouth in an apparent search for drugs. When they find them, the officer uses a gloved hand to remove several bags from Lurry's mouth.

Lurry's death was investigated by the Will Grundy Major Crimes Task Force, whose findings were forwarded to the Will County State's Attorney's Office.

The state's attorney's office determined the Joliet police committed no criminal wrongdoing. The Will County Coroner's Office ruled Lurry's death was an accident and that the "levels or concentrations" of the heroin, fentanyl and cocaine in his body "were over 10 times the fatal range."

Mayor Bob O'Dekirk said during Monday night's council meeting that he and three members of the city council signed a letter that was sent to the Illinois Attorney General's Office asking for an additional investigation of Lurry's death.

Esqueda failed to respond to a message left for him at the police department.

Meanwhile, a member of the city's fire and police board, Todd Wooten, sent an email to the board's liaison accusing Roechner of "blatantly retaliating against a Whistleblower, thus tampering with a witness and potentially 'compromising' a case."

Wooten also said he plans on "making a motion that the Fire & Police Board does not have confidence in the Chief of Police, and do not believe or trust the information he provides us," and went on to say Sgt. Patrick Cardwell, the "head of the Police Supervisor’s Union publicly accused the board of 'compromising the disciplinary process' due to our inaction' in March."

Cardwell said Wooten was "only serving as a mouthpiece or extension to Bob O'Dekirk" and was "completely out of his lane."

"The role of a fire and police board member is to hire and promote off eligibility lists and to review discipline brought before them. I didn't realize they were in the position to endorse or not endorse for political purposes," Cardwell said, adding that Wooten was "very misinformed about the Whistleblower Act."

He might want to educate himself on that subject," Cardwell said.

"All of this just sickens me, another embarrassment for the city," he added.

"Ninety-seven percent of the police department comes to work every day to do their jobs," Cardwell said. "The department has been hijacked for political purposes."

"How is he not a whistleblower? Wooten said of Esqueda.

"He considers himself a whistleblower and he feels he is being retaliated against as a whistleblower," Wooten said. "What am I missing?"

Wooten, who said he was "trying to stop a whistleblower from being harassed," also said he is nobody's mouthpiece.

"First of all, Todd Wooten speaks for Todd Wooten. I don't speak for Bob O'Dekirk," he said. "Everybody who knows me knows that."

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