A Joliet police sergeant pleaded not guilty to official misconduct charges that alleged he unlawfully accessed the video of an arrested man’s fatal overdose that led to protests last year and a federal lawsuit.
At Wednesday’s court hearing in Kendall County, Sgt. Javier Esqueda’s attorney Jeff Tomczak acknowledged he received a copy of the indictment against his client and entered a plea of not guilty to four counts of official misconduct.
Judge Robert Pilmer read the charges to Esqueda in court and told him if he were convicted of the charges, he would be eligible for probation. Each official misconduct charge is punishable by up to five years in prison.
Esqueda’s next court date is on Feb. 11.
After Wednesday’s hearing, Esqueda referred questions to Tomczak, who called the case the poster child for the “code of silence.” He said Esqueda was “doing what he thought was correct.”
Esqueda has been accused of unlawfully accessing a video that showed Eric Lurry, 37, riding to the Joliet Police Department after he was arrested at what police said was the scene of a drug deal in Jan. 29. Lurry’s death was investigated by the Will Grundy Major Crimes Task Force. The Will County State’s Attorney’s Office determined the Joliet police committed no criminal wrongdoing.
The Will County Coroner’s Office ruled Lurry’s death was caused by an accidental drug overdose from heroin, fentanyl and cocaine.
The video of the arrest led to protests throughout the summer in Joliet, including outside Joliet Mayor Bob O’Dekirk’s home.
Lurry’s wife, Nicole Lurry, filed a federal lawsuit in August against the city of Joliet and four police officers, claiming they engaged in “willful and wanton acts and reckless conduct” that led her husband’s death. Nicole Lurry is also running for the Joliet City Council in April.
The indictment filed against Esqueda alleged that “while not on duty” on June 10, he used a laptop in his squad car to access the department’s WatchGuard system and view “a video file which was locked” while he was “in a motor vehicle which passed through Kendall County.”
The indictment alleged Esqueda acted “with intent to obtain a personal advantage for himself.”
Tomczak has filed motions that argued that Kendall County is an improper place for trial as no actions occurred there and the charges failed to state an offense.
Esqueda was placed on administrative leave last July because he was under a criminal investigation and an internal affairs investigation, according to Joliet Police Al Roechner.
Roechner said Esqueda “gained unauthorized access to a video,” referring to the video of Eric Lurry’s arrest. He said the video was then “shared outside the police department, violating chain of custody and potentially evidence in the criminal matter.”