In a deeply divided climate in America today on the topic of police brutality, the case of Sgt. Javier Esqueda is bringing supporters and activists on both sides of the debate to the forefront, with each side claiming injustice.
Esqueda, 51, who lives in the Plainfield area, a Joliet Police Department sergeant who questions whether fellow supervisors engaged in police corruption surrounding the Jan. 29 in-custody death of Eric Lurry charged with official misconduct.
Sgt. Javier Esqueda was charged with two counts of official misconduct and was booked at the Kendall County Jail. Bond was set at $5,000, and Esqueda walked out of the facility on Wednesday afternoon. The felony charges mean that Esqueda could face five years in prison if he is found guilty.
According to the criminal complaint, on June 10, Esqueda “knowingly performed an act with he knew to be forbidden by law to perform in that he used the laptop in his Joliet Police Department squad car while not on duty to access the Joliet Police Department WatchGuard system to view a video file which was locked and he did so while in a motor vehicle which passed through Kendall County. All of the foregoing occurred in Kendall County, Illinois.”
“I want justice for Eric Lurry,” Esqueda said on Wednesday. “I want officers in the country to come out and tell the truth.”
“Something like this should not be happening if you are telling the truth.”
This summer, Esqueda obtained copies of the Joliet police videotapes surrounding Lurry’s January in-custody death, and copies of those videos were aired by CBS Channel 2 in Chicago. Esqueda also posted the videos on his personal Facebook page. The video showed Joliet Police Sgt. Doug May was holding Lurry’s nose shut for almost two minutes.
The Joliet police administration maintains that Lurry died as the result of a drug overdose. A toxicology report indicated that Lurry “had fatal levels of heroin, fentanyl, and cocaine in his system. The levels or concentrations were over 10 times the fatal range,” the Coroner’s office said.
“That’s been written in the law for a few years,” Esqueda said. “You can’t do that anymore to try to get them to cough up any kind of drugs in their system.”
“I can’t think of anywhere where I was taught CPR or in the academy where you slap a man, call him a bad name, cut off his airway, go for his throat,” Esqueda added. He said he cried when he saw the video.
Esqueda had been stripped of his police powers and placed on administrative leave. Joliet police withheld the video of the arrest for five months. He believes the police department was trying to cover up the arrest. “Yes, I do, 100 percent,” Esqueda told Savini this summer. “I did the right thing. I am a good honest cop.”
In the arrest video, an officer said that he believed that Lurry had ingested some of the narcotics before they secured him in the patrol car. Later in the patrol car, Lurry can be seen chewing something in his mouth. AS the minutes go by, one can see the altered condition of Lurry. When the officers open the patrol car to escort Lurry out of the vehicle, they find an unresponsive Lurry. The officers attempt to get him to be responsive and hold his nose while telling him to open his mouth. At one point and an officer is seen using a baton to keep his mouth open so that they can retrieve the drugs out of his mouth. They claim this is standard practice to protect the officer from being bitten while evacuating the mouth’s contents.
The Will County Coroner’s Office ruled Lurry’s death was due to heroin, fentanyl and cocaine intoxication.
On July 6, Esqueda had received a memo from Joliet Police Chief Al Roechner, notifying him that he was being removed from his regular duties was reassigned to administrative desk duty for an undetermined period.
“You shall exercise no powers including off-duty police details with respect to your position as a police officer nor shall you have, in your possession, any identification indicating that you are a Joliet police officer or carry a firearm,” the memo from Roechner states.
“You are ordered to immediately relinquish your take-home police vehicle, police identification cards, badge and firearm.”
Esqueda learned on July 7 that he was receiving a written reprimand for violating the Joliet Police Department’s social networking/social media personal use policy.
“The complaint alleges you made posts on your Facebook account that were in violation of Department policy,” the July 7 memo states. “You were afforded the opportunity to respond to the allegations. After reviewing evidence presented at this hearing, I found the allegations to be sustained for the second post you made on social media.”
On Wednesday, during a press conference following his arrest, Esqueda was hailed as a hero for doing what Lurry’s family and friends say was the right thing to do.
The investigation into the conduct of the two arresting officers is still ongoing.
So the question remains, was Esqueda arrested for going against the department and breaking through the blue wall of silence, or was he arrested because he broke the law? Was Esqueda a whistleblower?
Esqueda attorney says he was a whistleblower and that they will be filing a lawsuit against the city for the arrest in which they claim the arrest was retaliatory.
Lawyer for Esqueda, Jeff Tomczak, predics a total vindication of Esqueda in the criminal justice system at the Kendall County Courthouse in Yorkville.
According to the Joliet Patch, Tomczak stated, “What is most sad about this is that this is a clear message from Chief Roechner to the frontline officers that should they see actions they believe are misconduct by fellow officers, they must keep their mouths shut and stay quiet or they will be charged with a felony,”
“I also have no doubt in my mind that these charges were shopped around and Will County prosecutors declined, as they should, so they went shopping in Kendall County and were able to find a prosecutor to file these bad charges.”