Lawsuit against Joliet police officers over man’s death awaits key ruling

Demonstrators can be seen protesting outside Joliet City Hall, the Will County Courthouse and the Joliet Police Department on Saturday, Aug. 22, 2020, in response to the January 28 overdose death of Eric Lurry who died in police custody.

For almost a year, there’s been no ruling on a motion that could decide the fate of likely the most high-profile Joliet police misconduct lawsuit in the past decade.

As of Friday, U.S. Judge Jeffrey Cummings has not ruled on an April 28, 2023, motion for summary judgment from the city of Joliet to dismiss the lawsuit filed by Nicole Lurry. She is the widow of Eric Lurry Jr., 37, who died from a drug overdose after his Jan. 28, 2020, arrest.

Under a summary judgment motion, the city’s attorneys are asking Cummings to dismiss all 15 counts in the lawsuit before it goes to trial based on legal arguments and the evidence gathered so far. Cummings could dismiss some counts while leaving the rest for a jury to decide.

Last October, Cummings took over the case from U.S. Judge Virginia Kendall. She had been the judge on the case since it began in 2020. Cummings notified both parties on Feb. 23 that the city’s summary judgment motion remained under advisement.

The next status date for the case is May 3.

Nicole Lurry, wife of Eric Lurry who died while in the custody of the Joliet police, speaks to the council members during the City Council Meeting at City Hall in Joliet on Monday, March 13th, 2023.

According to Nicole Lurry’s lawsuit, Joliet police Sgt. Doug May, Lt. Jeremy Harrison, officer Andrew McCue and officer Jose Tellez committed “willful and wanton acts and reckless conduct” that caused her late husband’s death.

Her lawsuit also alleged that the officers violated her husband’s constitutional rights when he was placed under arrest after a narcotics investigation.

In 2020, former Will County Coroner Patrick O’Neil’s office ruled that Eric Lurry died from an accidental overdose of the drugs inside of the plastic baggies that were in his mouth. Will County State’s Attorney James Glasgow cleared the officers of any wrongdoing.

The motion for summary judgment from the city of Joliet largely argues that the lawsuit should be dismissed under the doctrine of qualified immunity, a legal principle that has protected government officials from lawsuits.

Former Joliet Mayor Bob O’Dekirk, who pushed for another outside investigation into the Lurry incident, criticized proposals to end qualified immunity at a 2021 City Council meeting, during which he said there is a “war on police.”

In 2020, O’Dekirk and several other council members issued a letter with concerns about the Lurry incident that led to Illinois Attorney General Kwame Raoul opening a civil investigation of the Joliet Police Department in 2021.

A trial still is pending in Kendall County for retired Joliet police Sgt. Javier Esqueda. He’s charged in a felony official misconduct case that alleges he unlawfully accessed the police squad video of Lurry’s arrest. The video then was published by CBS 2 Chicago.

A major pretrial hearing is scheduled Tuesday for Esqueda’s case, which may settle the question of whether his case goes to trial this spring.

In the city attorneys’ motion for summary judgment, they contend that the officers’ search and arrest of Lurry was constitutional, that they acted reasonably when they removed drugs from Lurry’s mouth, and that none of them denied his need for medical care when he was overdosing.

Nicole Lurry’s attorneys claim that the officers “squandered multiple opportunities” to save Lurry’s life. The attorneys claim that the actions of May, who smacked Lurry and pinched his nose shut, increased Lurry’s likelihood of dying.

Dr. Bill Smock, who found that George Floyd died from “positional asphyxia” and not a drug overdose, concluded that Lurry had died because he had recklessly placed the drugs in his mouth. He compared it with “jumping out of an airplane without a parachute,” according to court records.

Demonstrators protested the death of Eric Lurry on Friday outside the Joliet Police Department.