What doctors had to say about Eric Lurry’s death in Joliet police lawsuit case

An expert in lawsuit case believes Eric Lurry’s life was doomed even if he had received quicker medical care while two other experts say his life could have been saved if Joliet police officers had acted more urgently and not performed actions that contributed to his death.

Doctors Bill Smock, Kelly Johnson-Arbor and Judy Melinek are three medical experts whom U.S. Judge Virginia Kendall has allowed to testify in the ongoing federal lawsuit case between the City of Joliet and Lurry’s widow, Nicole Lurry.

Smock is an expert for attorneys for the City of Joliet in the case, while Johnson-Arbor and Melinek are experts for Nicole Lurry’s attorneys.

Johnson-Arbor and Melinek came to similar conclusions about what caused Lurry’s death on Jan. 29, 2020. Smock, meanwhile, supported the first assessment of the man’s death by Dr. Michel Humilier, a forensic pathologist for the Will County Coroner’s Office.

Humilier found Lurry died from intoxication of heroin, fentanyl and cocaine that were in the baggies that Lurry had in his mouth following his arrest by Joliet police officers in a drug investigation.

In Smock’s May 24, 2022 report, he found the officers involved in Lurry’s arrest had rendered “potentially life-saving measures” on him.

Smock said that based Lurry’s rapidly declining health, along with the quantity and combined effects of cocaine, fentanyl and heroin in his body, Lurry’s “ultimate outcome would not have been altered had the Joliet Fire Department been dispatched sooner.”

Yet Johnson-Arbor, in her March 18, 2022 report, found the officers delay in treating Lurry when they first suspected he had drugs in his mouth and their failure to provide Lurry with Narcan had increased the likelihood of his death. Narcan is medication given to people suffering from an opioid overdose.

Protesters hold rally against Will County State's Attorney James Glasgow in response to the death of Eric Lurry on Monday, Aug. 10, 2020, in downtown Joliet.

Melinek came to a similar conclusion in her March 17, 2022 report.

“Had the police officers searched Eric Lurry and removed the drugs, or had they called for medical support when they first suspected that Mr. Lurry might have swallowed drugs at the scene, his death would have most certainly been averted,” Melinek’s report said.

Johnson-Arbor also found Joliet police Sgt. Doug May holding Lurry’s nose shut for about 90 seconds deprived him of oxygen.

“This, in combination with the potential airway obstruction caused by the insertion of a baton into Mr. Lurry’s mouth, more likely than not worsened Mr. Lurry’s degree of hypoxia, caused a further deterioration on his clinical status and reduced his overall chances of survival,” Johnson-Arbor said.

Johnson-Arbor said Humilier found it was unlikely that Lurry had an airway obstruction because of his lack of gag reflex with the baggies in his mouth. However, she said opioid intoxication can suppress the gag reflex. Melinek came to a similar conclusion.

Melinek and Johnson-Arbor both rejected that pinching a person’s nose as an approved medical technique.

“I have been a physician for more than 20 years and I have never witnessed a paramedic, nurse or doctor either pinch a patient’s nose to force oral opening or slap a patient on the face,” Johnson-Arbor said.

Smock said May’s pinching of Lurry’s nose was designed to assist with the opening of his mouth and the removal of dangerous, life-threatening drugs.

“As an EMT, a tactical medic and an attending emergency physician, I was trained in this technique to facilitate the opening of a patient’s mouth. I have personally utilized this technique in the pre-hospital and hospital environments in an effort to remove foreign material, including drugs, from the mouths of patients as a life-saving measure,” Smock said.

Johnson-Arbor’s report had concluded that the officers who detained Lurry had “contributed to his clinical deterioration and death” by failing to provide prompt medical attention after he was first suspected of ingesting drugs.

Melinek found while Lurry died from complications of acute mixed drug intoxication, asphyxia for several minutes “due to the obstruction of [Lurry’s] airway is a significant contributing condition to death.”

Smock, who testified about George Floyd’s death in former Minneapolis Police Officer Derek Chauvin’s murder trial, found the Floyd and Lurry case had similar medical and forensic issues.

Yet Smock found Floyd died from “positional asphyxia” – or oxygen deprivation – rather than drugs, while Lurry died from “self-induced drug ingestion.”

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.