By Chinta Strausberg
Suspicious that the recently released January 28 videotapes of the Joliet police-related murder of Eric Lurry may be edited, Rainbow PUSH Coalition officials Tuesday, July 14, demanded that all unedited videos including scanner audio be publicly released.
Lurry, 37, was arrested five months ago, but the video of that incident just surfaced thanks to Joliet Sgt. Javier Esqueda, a 27-year-veteran, who posted it online. Esqueda admitted he released the video knowing it was a departmental violation and predicted, “they will come after me.”
“Seeing that video was so disturbing,” Esqueda recently told reporters. “I cried. Every day having to live with that was a hard thing knowing this administration was probably going to do nothing about it. I did the right thing. I am a good, honest cop,” he said.
Esqueda was referring to the video that showed how one officer pinched the nose of Lurry for a minute and 46 seconds while another cop rammed a baton down his throat. “If it weren’t for Sgt. Esqueda, we never would have known about these atrocities,” said Bishop Tavis Grant, national field director for the Rainbow PUSH Coalition, “and for that, he is being punished.”
Esqueda’s actions, which broke the “Code of Silence” many police honor, raised the ire of the administration which, according to Grant, cost him his job for exposing the truth. That, Grant said, is unfair for police officials to have stripped Esqueda of his gun, his shield, his car and placed him on administrative leave. The two officers involved in this incident remain on active duty.
“We are supposed to protect whistleblowers,” Grant said during a press conference held Tuesday outside the Joliet City Hall, 150 W. Jefferson St., where he was joined by Bishop Craig Purchase, president of the Rainbow PUSH Coalition Joliet chapter, and who is also pastor of the Mt. Zion Tabernacle Church in Joliet. Lurry’s family, Will County Forest Preserve Comm. Herbert Coates and activist Wallace “Gator” Bradley were also part of the press conference.
But when told that Joliet Police Chief Al Roechner said he stripped Esqueda of his police powers because he had “unauthorized access to a video that was being investigated by an outside agency” and that Esqueda is now under a criminal and an internal investigation, Grant said, “that raises the brow of suspicion.”
“The video they allowed the family to see just a week ago had narration added to it, had been edited, parts were not continuous, and there was breakage in the footage, according to the family. We don’t know if it is raw video or produced by the police department,” Grant said.
Lurry’s cousin, Meshona Mitchell, took those suspicions one step further. “You don’t get to pick and choose. We want all held accountable. Everybody who had a hand in the cover-up, who had a hand in the action, whoever took that video to be held accountable,” she told reporters.
The fact that it took a police whistleblower to post the video online, smacks of a “practice and pattern,” Grant said, comparing the withholding of a police-related murder to such high-profile cases as Laquan McDonald and the 2012 police-related death of Philip Coleman, 38, whose tape was released three years later. “All of these cases have their similarities.”
“This raises the question of who can we trust,” Grant said, calling on Illinois Attorney General Kwame Raoul to launch an investigation and appoint a special prosecutor. “The pleas for justice, transparency and accountability are still falling on deaf ears. It is not that they don’t get it.
“They don’t want us to have it.” He said they have no right to obstruct justice. “A person’s life is lost.”
Grant compared Lurry’s death to that of George Floyd in Minnesota, who like Lurry, couldn’t breathe while in police custody.
Community activist Bradley said it is time out for “police officers thinking they can get away with police brutality, misconduct and murder.”