Council members Terry Morris, Jan Quillman, Larry Hug and Mayor Bob O’Dekirk signed a letter asking for the Attorney General’s intervention.
By John Ferak, Patch Staff
Illinois Attorney General Kwame Raoul will be launching an independent investigation into the circumstances of the Jan. 29 death of Eric Lurry, a 37-year-old Black man, who died after being detained inside a Joliet Police Department squad car for several minutes behind the downtown police station, 150 Washington St.
The incident — from six months ago — was captured on a Joliet police car’s dash camera, but it took a whistleblower to bring the video to the attention of the Joliet City Council in late June, Joliet Patch learned this week.
Last week, for the first time, Mayor Bob O’Dekirk and eight council members got to watch a several-minute-long video clip showing the events leading to Lurry’s death. The council saw the video during a closed session meeting discussing city personnel.
“I’ve never seen anything like that, to be honest,” four-term city councilwoman Jan Quillman told Joliet Patch’s editor Tuesday night. “I knew it had to be reported immediately. I didn’t want it to look like possibly a cover-up to somebody.”
“Because it was taking too long and no information was being given,” Quillman said in explaining why she supported Raoul’s intervention at this stage.
Also, Tuesday night, CBS-Chicago reported that the videotape shows Joliet “police hitting a man in handcuffs and putting (a) police baton into his mouth.”
The Chicago television station quoted Lurry’s wife as saying, “I’ve tried to get answers from Joliet Police Department, and they won’t give me any answers to what happened.”
Quillman told Joliet Patch that she thought the city’s nine elected officials came to a unanimous agreement last week to draft a letter seeking an independent investigation led by the Illinois Attorney General.
In recent days, Quillman signed the letter, as did Larry Hug, Mayor O’Dekirk and Terry Morris. However, Quillman and Morris told Joliet Patch on Tuesday night they were dismayed and surprised that all members of the Mudron 5 Coalition chose not to sign their names to the letter that got mailed Monday seeking Raoul’s independent investigation.
Quillman told Joliet Patch she knows she did the right thing by asking for Raoul’s staff to investigate Lurry’s death.
Quillman’s husband retired from the Joliet Police Department in 2009, and she told Patch she is not worried about any political backlash she may get for signing the letter and pushing for the outside investigation of the Joliet Police Department’s actions.
“This is not a political thing for me,” Quillman told Patch. “I don’t care what happens to me politically. It had to be done. In the end, the Attorney General was the right place to go.”
On Tuesday, Patch called all nine council members for their reaction to the Lurry videotape and for comment on why they signed or did not sign the letter to Raoul.
During an interview that lasted about 10 seconds, Don “Duck” Dickinson told Joliet Patch’s editor: “I don’t have anything to say about it.”
Patch left lengthy voicemail messages with the four other members who chose not to sign the letter: Bettye Gavin, Sherri Reardon, Pat Mudron and Mike Turk, but none of them returned phone calls to Patch on Tuesday night.
Gavin’s nephew, Darrell, is one of Police Chief Al Roechner’s four deputy chiefs.
On Tuesday night, Morris told Joliet Patch that prior to watching the Lurry in-custody death video, he was under the false impression that Lurry overdosed from drugs inside a Joliet Police Station holding cell, and there was nothing more to the story.
In the video, sources told Patch, Lurry remains in the back of a Joliet squad car while several Joliet Police supervisors and officers are in his constant presence, and at least one is poking Lurry in the mouth with a baton and calling him a demeaning name while he is still semi-coherent.
“It’s kind of heartbreaking to see,” Morris, who is Black, told Joliet Patch on Tuesday night. “It just seemed like, man, it was just really hurting.
“It’s sad, almost unexplainable,” Morris added.
A long-time funeral director, Morris handled the arrangements for Lurry at his Minor-Morris Funeral Home on Joliet’s Richards Street. Morris told Patch he was friends with Lurry’s father and grandfather going back several years, when he first moved to Joliet.
“Just real good people,” Morris said. “(Lurry) was just an average guy, a nice guy and a nice family.”
Hug would not divulge what he saw on the video involving Lurry, “but the video puts it in a different light. I signed the letter after Terry and Jan and Bob. I’m not going to describe the video … it raised a lot of questions for all nine members of the council, but no answers. The video speaks for itself. I’m making no judgments on the video at this point. It needs to be reviewed by (someone) like the Attorney General’s Office.”
Prior to the June 23 council meeting, Morris said, he did not know the in-car Joliet Police videotape even existed.
Morris told Joliet Patch he does not have faith that the Will-Grundy Major Crimes Task Force can conduct an impartial investigation into Lurry’s death, given that it’s been six months and the case remains on the agency’s back burner.
On Monday, Joliet Patch confirmed that the investigation into Lurry’s death has been stalling at the Will-Grundy Major Crimes Task Force, a consortium of Joliet area police investigators from several local departments. A Lockport police detective remains in charge of the case.
Wednesday marks the sixth month of the death investigation.
On the other hand, Morris said he does have strong faith in Attorney General’s Raoul and his team to do a thorough probe into whether Joliet police officers and supervisors acted appropriately as Lurry died right in front of them.
Joliet Patch reported on May 20, as a result of a vehicle forfeiture complaint filed by Will County State’s Attorney Jim Glasgow, that Joliet police confiscated $1,300 cash from Lurry at the time of his arrest on East Washington Street in the Ingalls Park area on the afternoon of Jan. 28.
Patch also reported that rookie Joliet Police Officer Bill McCue transported Lurry to the downtown Joliet Police Station where Sgt. Doug May and Lt. Jeremy Harrison became involved in the case. “Sgt. May and Officer Harrison observed that Lurry … was blinking oddly and his mouth opening and shutting almost as if he was trying to swallow, was not exiting the squad car,” court records state. “Sgt. May observed a bag in Lurry’s mouth and observed Lurry to be unconscious.”
Joliet Police Department Lt. Chris Botzum issued a statement on Jan. 29 indicating Lurry swallowed a bag of cocaine while in custody and that Lurry later died at AMITA Health Saint Joseph Medical Center.
“Last week was the first time I seen it,” Morris told Patch on Tuesday night, referring to the video. “It was a sad, sad situation.”
Morris emphasized he is not passing judgment on anybody at the Joliet Police Department. Morris said Raoul’s legal staff may decide, in the end, that Joliet’s officers did nothing wrong.
However, Morris said he is glad that a neutral, authority figure more powerful than the Will-Grundy Task Force will issue a decision regarding Lurry’s death.
On Monday, Romeoville’s police chief Ken Kroll, who is a supervisor with the Will-Grundy Major Crimes Task Force, told Joliet Patch that the task force investigation remains in “limbo,” and Kroll was unable to provide a time frame when the Lurry investigation would conclude.
“To me, it just seemed like an in-house investigation,” Morris said, referring to the Will-Grundy Task Force.
Incidentally, the same Will-Grundy Major Crimes Task Force also supported the Channahon Police Department’s conclusion that Samantha Harer committed suicide on Feb. 13, 2018, by shooting herself in her head, even though she was found nude on her bedroom floor, and very few women commit suicide by shooting themselves with a handgun.
Harer’s estranged boyfriend, Crest Hill police officer Phil “Felipe” Flores, was cleared of criminal wrongdoing by Kroll’s task force, even though Flores had gunshot residue on his hands and sweatshirt, and none was found on Harer’s hands, Patch has previously reported.
On Tuesday, Patch asked O’Dekirk for a copy of the letter that got sent to Raoul, but he declined to release it.
He did say that following last week’s June 23 meeting, he, too, was under the impression that all nine council members agreed that a letter should be drafted to sent to Raoul for an outside investigation.
However, in the days that followed, for reasons he does not know, O’Dekirk said the Mudron 5 all refused to sign their name to the typed letter being sent to the Democratic Attorney General.
In late June, the Joliet Police Department’s administration denied two separate Joliet Patch Freedom of Information Act requests seeking access to any and all police incident reports generated by the agency’s officers and supervisors from the Jan. 29 death of Lurry.
Secondly, Joliet Patch had requested access to any and all “audio and video recordings” that captured footage of the Jan. 28, 2020, arrest and transport of prisoner Eric Lurry to the Joliet Police Department property at 150 Washington St.
Joliet Police Lt. Chris Botzum responded that Patch’s FOIA was being denied on both items because “that disclosure would obstruct an ongoing criminal investigation by the agency that is the recipient of the request Will County Major Crime Task Force.”
This article originally appeared in Patch.