Ex-cop James Corralejo of DeKalb denies consuming alcohol while on release for DUI death

Prosecutors allege ankle bracelet tampered with; Corralejo says it gave him allergic reaction

James Corralejo, of DeKalb, testifies in Judge Philip Montgomery’s courtroom Monday, April 29, 2024, during a hearing on his case at the DeKalb County Courthouse in Sycamore. Prosecutors alleged Corralejo, on release pending charges that he drove drunk and caused a Nov. 5, 2023, crash that killed DeKalb woman Graciela Reza Contreras, 59, tampered with his ankle monitor after it detected alcohol six times in March and April.

SYCAMORE – Ex-police officer James Corralejo of DeKalb denied allegations Monday that he consumed alcohol in violation of the terms of his release, as he awaits trial accused of driving drunk and causing a Nov. 5, 2023, crash, that killed DeKalb woman Graciela Reza Contreras.

Prosecutors asked a judge to deny him release, alleging he violated his conditions when an ankle bracelet he wore detected alcohol six times in March and April.

He’s been free on release since Nov. 7. Police have said the truck he was driving collided at South Seventh and Taylor streets with a car carrying multiple members of the Contreras family, killing 59-year-old Reza Contreras, a doting mother and grandmother.

Circuit Court Judge Philip Montgomery asked Corralejo, who took the stand Monday in his own defense, if he’d consumed any alcohol while on release.

“Not a single drop,” said Corralejo, eyes closed and shaking his head, outfitted in a black zip-up sweater and tan pants with a new alcohol-monitoring bracelet on his right wrist instead of ankle.

Corralejo, 25, who said he lives with his parents in DeKalb, was off duty but employed at the time of the crash as a police officer for the Village of South Holland. He said Monday he no longer works there but instead works for a company called Sunrun in DeKalb.

Multiple requests for comment on the status of Corralejo’s employment from the South Holland Police Department and Village of South Holland have gone unanswered. The Village asked for an extension to May 2 on a public records request.

Corralejo is prohibited from consuming or using alcohol as a condition of his release.

He’s allowed to drive but was ordered to wear an ankle bracelet, called a SCRAM device, to monitor his alcohol consumption. He had it outfitted Nov. 7 to his left ankle, then switched to his right ankle Feb. 26, switched back to the left April 17 and then taken off the ankle and replaced with the wrist device April 24, Montgomery said.

Prosecutors argued Monday, however, that Coralejo’s bracelet meant to monitor alcohol consumption showed signs of tampering. An employee of the company that outfitted the device testified that the device detected alcohol coming from Corralejo’s body six separate times in March and April.

“We are very very concerned with the tampering,” said prosecutor Scott Schwertley of the DeKalb County State’s Attorney’s Office.

Corralejo’s Aurora-based defense lawyer, Camic Johnson, argued that the device was instead detecting ointment Corralejo had applied on his ankle due to a rash he developed from nickel in the device.

David Torres, customer services and field operations manager for CAM systems, said the devices are made to sense alcohol using infrared technology.

“Basically if there’s alcohol in your body, it will pick that up,” Torres said.

On March 13, the ankle bracelet reported what Torres called a tamper, detecting alcohol from Corralejo. At 7:35 a.m. April 3, the ankle bracelet detected an alcohol level of 0.016 in Corralejo, Torres testified. On April 5, the bracelet’s data showed Corralejo reported a 0.031 level. On April 18, a 0.012 level, and about a half hour later, 0.014. On April 23, the bracelet detected an alcohol level of 0.014.

The former law enforcement officer did acknowledge, however, that he knowingly tampered with the device when it was on his ankle without consulting his lawyer. Corralejo said he did it to alleviate a severe allergic reaction.

He repeatedly applied Aspercreme, iodine and tape to his ankle, he said. Aspercreme has a small amount of alcohol in it. The label on the iodine swab did not list alcohol, he testified. He said he didn’t tell his lawyer because he feared if he couldn’t wear the device he would be placed in police custody pending trial.

Use of any type of alcohol in any way is prohibited under the conditions of Corralejo’s release.

Corralejo previously pleaded not guilty to aggravated DUI, reckless homicide and DUI. Police allege in court records, however, that Corralejo admitted to drinking the night of the crash. If convicted of both reckless homicide, a Class 3 felony, and aggravated DUI, he could be sentenced to 14 years in prison.

Montgomery is expected to rule on prosecutors’ request to deny release to Corralejo on May 29.

Schwertley argued Montgomery should revoke Corralejo’s driver’s license even if he’s not detained to deter risk that he’ll drink and drive.

“I doubt that I will detain him but I could see a scenario in which sanctions are imposed,” Montgomery said.

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