Trial possible for retired Joliet police sergeant’s official misconduct case

Javier Esqueda during a status hearing at the Kendall County Courthouse. Esqueda faces official misconduct charges for leaking video of Eric Lurry’s arrest. Lurry died from a drug overdose. Tuesday, June 14, 2022 in Yorkville.

It’s possible a case against a retired Joliet police sergeant charged with unlawfully accessing a squad video that led to protests and federal lawsuit may finally go to trial this year.

The trial for former Joliet police Sgt. Javier Esqueda may depend on the outcome of a pretrial motion hearing April 2, his attorney Jeff Tomczak said.

That court hearing will be over Tomczak’s motion to dismiss the evidence gathered by the Joliet Police Department because they violated his client’s rights as a whistleblower.

Kendall County prosecutors also have motioned to block Esqueda from declaring himself a whistleblower at the trial because he is not considered one under Illinois law.

There has yet to be a ruling on that motion.

Tomczak on Friday said he expect to go to trial sometime after the April 2 pretrial hearing. By that point, the case against Esqueda will have lasted about three and a half years.

“It’s not unusual for cases to last this long,” Tomczak said.

Defense attorney Jeff Tomczak holds up documents for the  judge during a status hearing for Javier Esqueda at the Kendall County Courthouse. Esqueda faces official misconduct charges for leaking video of Eric Lurry’s arrest. Lurry died from a drug overdose. Tuesday, June 14, 2022 in Yorkville.

One of the biggest blows to the progress of the case has been the resignation of former Kendall County Assistant State’s Attorney Mark Shlifka, who was the lead prosecutor.

“That slowed it down,” Tomczak said.

Shlifka resigned last year in the wake of allegations that he had an inappropriate relationship with a woman who had been the complaining witness and victim in two domestic battery cases and recently the defendant in a driving under the influence case.

The woman sued Shlifka and Kendall County State’s Attorney Eric Weis, who was dismissed this week from the lawsuit.

Tomczak said he requested that the state’s attorney’s office conduct an internal review of the Esqueda case because he did not believe it filed proper criminal charges against his client.

In response to questions about the Esqueda case, Weis said, the “matter is set for hearing on pretrial motions.”

Weis is up for election in November. The Yorkville Republican will face a challenge from Jose Arnold Villagrana, a Democratic candidate from Oswego.

On Oct. 20, 2020, Esqueda was charged with felony official misconduct. Those charges were the result of an investigation into allegations that Esqueda gained unauthorized access to a squad video depicting the Jan. 28, 2020, arrest of Eric Lurry Jr., 37.

The video showed officers pulling bags of drugs out of Lurry’s mouth. The video also showed Joliet police Sgt. Doug May slapping Lurry in the face, saying, “Wake up, [expletive]!” before clasping Lurry’s neck with one hand and pinching his nose with the other hand.

After Lurry’s death, the Will County Coroner’s Office determined that he died from an accidental drug overdose.

Will County State’s Attorney James Glasgow cleared the officers involved in his arrest of any wrongdoing.

In 2021, Illinois Attorney General Kwame Raoul opened a civil investigation into the Joliet Police Department in response to a letter from former Joliet Mayor Bob O’Dekirk and three members of the Joliet City Council. The letter asked for an outside investigation of the Lurry incident even though one had been done by the Will-Grundy Major Crimes Task Force.

Protests by Lurry’s family and activists followed a news report on the squad video and interview of Esqueda by CBS 2 Chicago. Lurry’s widow, Nicole Lurry, filed a federal lawsuit Aug. 3, 2020, against the city and several officers over the incident.

The lawsuit still is ongoing. Both parties in the case are waiting for a ruling from a federal judge on their motions for summary judgment. The ruling could decide the ultimate fate of the case.

Nicole Lurry, the widow of Eric Lurry, discusses the circumstances of her husband's death with Joliet Police Chief Al Roechner at Sunday's protest.