A police sergeant in Joliet, Illinois, has been stripped of his badge and placed on administrative leave after he whistleblew the cover-up of the murder of a man who was tortured to death by his colleagues.
Sgt. Javier “Butch” Esqueda, was emotional when revealing the horrific death of Eric Lurry, a Black man from Joliet, who was choked to death in the back of a squad car in shocking footage captured on video.
“Seeing that video was so disturbing, I cried,” Sgt. Esqueda said. “Every day, having to live with that was a hard thing.”
On Tuesday, protesters marched around the Joliet Police Department shouting for justice for Lurry while praising Sgt. Esqueda, a 27-year police veteran who was fired for breaking the code of silence within law enforcement, reports CBS2 Chicago.
Cop who blew whistle on death of #EricLurry is stripped of his badge. “That’s what you get,” says one source for going against the “blue wall of silence” Lurry had nose pinched shut for 98 seconds in cuffs. Police Sgt Javier Esqueda, a 27 year vet fighting for job. @cbschicago pic.twitter.com/E61I1pGqcQ
— Dave Savini CBS (@davesavinicbs2) July 7, 2020
Following the outrage, Joliet City Manager Steve Jones resigned after a City Council meeting where the brutal details surrounding Lurry’s death were discussed. During the meeting, Joliet Mayor Bob O’Dekirk commented that he had “grave concerns” over the dashboard video filmed inside the police cruiser and subsequent cover-up by Joliet PD that ensued after Lurry’s death.
Eric Lurry Jr., a 37-year-old man was arrested in an undercover sting operation after he was allegedly found to be hiding drugs in his mouth. Police claimed that he had experienced a medical emergency while he was in custody which lead to his death at Joseph’s Hospital. However, the facts that emerged following his death from video recorded inside a police cruiser show a much different horrifying story.
In the video, Joliet Police Sgt. Doug May and another officer can be seen violently shaking Lurry while the man is in handcuffs then beating him while holding his nose shut in an attempt to force the drugs out of his mouth. Lurry was motionless as the officers held him down. Beyond that what happens next is bone-chilling an officer at some point in the video places his baton in Lurry’s mouth before officers shined a flashlight in his mouth and Lurry just slumps over motionless.
Esqueda believes that Lurry suffocated to death in this situation and that anyone in the same position would have faced a similar fate.
“He was suffocating,” Esqueda said. “In my opinion, anybody would suffocate in that situation.”
For five months, the video was hidden while the officers who killed Lurry were cleared of any wrongdoing getting away with murder backed by the police Dept according to Esqueda. That was until the hero cop acted gaining unauthorized access to the video from the Will-Grundy Major Crimes Task Force releasing it to CBS2.
However, Esqueada noticed something odd with the tape it was edited and the sound was missing.
“It was almost like the supervisor looks off and says something to somebody, and then you hear the sound cut out,” Esqueda added. “That’s what alerted me that possibly, they were trying to get rid of evidence.”
“There had to be” a deliberate attempt to remove the audio, he added. “There’s no way that can happen.”
Esqueda knew that he faced retaliation from his superiors but he did it because he knew that the family would never get justice if he didn’t, adding that he didn’t want to be apart of the problem. Esqueda also spoke about the George Floyd police murder stating he was appalled by it and cried.
“There’s some fear [of retaliation],” Esqueda said. “[But] when you see stuff like this, you have to come forward. You can’t sit there and be quiet, because then, we’re just part of the problem.”
“In light of everything that’s’ been happening – you know George Floyd really had a lot of us police officers [upset],” Esqueda said. “When we saw that video, a lot of us cried. People don’t believe that.”
“But the thing is, there are a lot of good officers out of 750,000,” he added. “Not everybody is a bad cop. Most cops that I know were upset by George Floyd.”
On Monday, Esqueda was placed on administrative duty in the Joliet PD records section as the department launched a criminal probe and internal investigation into his actions.
“The video that was accessed was shared outside the police department, violating chain of custody and potentially evidence in the criminal matter,” JPD Chief Al Roechner told the Joliet Herald-News. “When this was found out on June 18 of 2020, I immediately opened a criminal investigation.”
Despite being placed on administrative leave, the local community and even the Black Police Officers Association is backing Esqueda.
“He’s a member, and we’re going to back him,” Dave Jackson, president of the Joliet BPOA chapter, told Joliet Patch.
“If someone’s doing the right thing, we’re going to stand right there with them,” he added. “Sergeant Esqueda has been held as a well-respected supervisor and United States Marine and has served his country and his community proudly.”
“Without Sgt. Esqueda drawing attention to this death to city officials, this in-custody death may still be pending,” Jackson said.
Community members are now petitioning for Esqueda to be reinstated on Change.org titled “Immediate and Full Reinstatement of Police Sergeant Javier Esqueda.”