Ex-Joliet police sergeant’s official misconduct case still stuck in pretrial battles

State, defense quarrel over potential trial evidence in Kendall County court

Retired Joliet police sergeant Javier Esqueda stands with his lawyer Jeff Tomczak at a pre-trial hearing at the Kendall County courthouse on Tuesday, July 9, 2024 in Yorkville. Esqueda is charged with official misconduct for accessing and leaking the police squad video of the arrest of Eric Lurry, 37, who died following his arrest on drug charges in January 2020.

After almost four years, a Kendall County case against a retired Joliet police sergeant accused of unlawfully accessing a controversial squad vehicle video has not yet gone to trial.

The felony official misconduct case against Javier Esqueda, 54, remains stuck in the pretrial stage with at least four motions from his attorney that have not been ruled on by a judge. There also are two motions from Kendall County prosecutors that have not been ruled on.

One of the four defense motions has been pending for about two years.

The latter motion from Esqueda’s attorney, Jeff Tomczak, requests a judge to suppress police evidence against Esqueda because he claims that it was obtained in violation of the Illinois Whistleblower Act.

Tomczak haș long contended that the Joliet Police Department retaliated against Esqueda after CBS 2 Chicago broke the story about him blowing the whistle on a squad video depicting the controversial 2020 arrest of Eric Lurry Jr., 37. Lurry died from an overdose of the drugs that were in his mouth following his arrest.

Lurry’s widow, Nicole Lurry, filed a lawsuit that claimed several officers caused her husband’s death, including Joliet police Sgt. Doug May. The video showed May slapping Lurry in the face, calling him an offensive term and pinching his nose in an attempt to open his mouth so other officers could retrieve the drugs.

On Tuesday, Tomczak told Kendall County Judge Robert Pilmer that he needs to obtain testimony from former Kendall County Assistant State’s Attorney Mark Shlifka before moving forward with his motion to suppress police evidence against Esqueda.

Shlifka was the lead prosecutor on the Esqueda case. He resigned last year after he was sued by a female defendant with whom he was in a relationship.

Kendall County Judge Rober Pilmer listens to defense lawyer Jeff Tomczak at a pre-trial hearing for his client retired Joliet police sergeant Javier Esqueda at the Kendall County courthouse on Tuesday, July 9, 2024 in Yorkville. Esqueda is charged with official misconduct for accessing and leaking the police squad video of the arrest of Eric Lurry, 37, who died following his arrest on drug charges in January 2020.

Pilmer decided Tuesday to defer ruling on Tomczak’s motion to issue a subpoena to Shlifka.

Pilmer said he knew the case was pending for a long time, and he didn’t wish to prolong it further.

But Pilmer said he believed the best course of action would be to defer ruling on Shlifka’s subpoena until after Joliet police officers testified in pretrial motion hearings about what they told prosecutors when seeking Esqueda’s charges.

Another pretrial hearing for Esqueda has been set for Aug. 7 before Kendall County Judge Jody Gleason.

During Tuesday’s hearing, Tomczak said he wanted to question Shlifka on whether Joliet police officers approached him before or after the airing of the CBS 2 Chicago story.

Tomczak said another question that he wanted to ask Shlifka was whether the officers mentioned a departmental policy that allows Esqueda to view and download squad videos.

“I want to know and ask Mr. Shlifka if he was ever made aware of that or ever handed that because that would stand in direct contradiction of the charges of computer tampering,” Tomczak said, referring to the underlying allegation of the felony official misconduct charge.

Tomczak said he could get that information through the testimony of certain Joliet police officials, but it would be like “asking the wolf what happened in the chicken coop.”

Kendall County State’s Attorney Eric Weis speaks to the judge at a pre-trial hearing for retired Joliet police sergeant Javier Esqueda at the Kendall County courthouse on Tuesday, July 9, 2024 in Yorkville. Esqueda is charged with official misconduct for accessing and leaking the police squad video of the arrest of Eric Lurry, 37, who died following his arrest on drug charges in January 2020.

Kendall County State’s Attorney Eric Weis said Tomczak admitted that he could get answers to his questions through sources other than Shlifka. Weis also argued that Tomczak was trying to once again challenge the legality of the charges against Esqueda.

“We’ve been through all that. So the issue of trying to relitigate that by trying to call a prosecutor, whether he’s here in this office or no longer employed with us, is not relevant,” Weis said.

Prosecutors still are seeking to block Esqueda from calling himself a whistleblower at trial because he is not considered one under the Illinois Whistleblower Act.

Prosecutors also are seeking to introduce evidence of internal investigations against Esqueda, which was the apparent motive for him to access the Lurry squad video.

Shlifka said in a 2021 motion that Esqueda allegedly told a police sergeant that he would use the Lurry video “as his trump card” if he was disciplined after those internal investigations.

Tomczak haș motioned to block any evidence of motive that prosecutors intend to introduce at trial because they are not relevant to the computer-tampering allegations. Tomczak also filed a motion to challenge the credibility of former Joliet Police Chief Al Roechner and other police witnesses.