Joliet hires second outside law firm in Lurry case

Private Westmont attorney hired while outside law firm continues internal affairs investigation

The city of Joliet has hired a law firm for what is at least a third outside review of matters related to the arrest of Eric Lurry, whose death while in police custody led to local demonstrations, calls for changes in the police department and a civil lawsuit against the city.

An internal affairs investigation being conducted by one outside law firm has contributed to the discipline of two police officers so far.

City Manager James Capparelli said he hired another private attorney to do an investigation of the Lurry case.

“If there’s something there, let’s find out about it,” Capparelli said. “If there’s nothing there, let’s find out about that.”

City Manager Jim Capparelli listens to council discussion on Tuesday, May 18, 2021, at Joliet City Hall in Joliet, Ill. The Joliet City Council discussed an amendment to allow for liquor consumption and video gambling at gas stations.

Westmont attorney Sean Connolly was hired earlier this month, Capparelli said.

He was hired at a time when an outside law firm hired by the city last year continues to conduct its own investigation into the Lurry case.

The firm of Ottoson, DiNalfo, Hasenbalg & Castaldo was hired last year to do the internal affairs investigation that otherwise would have been conducted by the police department in an attempt to put some distance between the police department and the probe into the sensitive matter.

There have been two suspensions so far connected to the Jan. 28, 2020, arrest of Lurry.

The most recent was a six-day suspension of Officer Jose Tellez because he “stopped the recording of the in-squad video system,” according to the April 14 suspension notice.

On Jan. 28, Sgt. Doug May was suspended for seven days because he “used disrespectful language, slapped, and made other contact” with Lurry, according to his suspension notice.

Video released by police showed May slapping Lurry while saying, “Wake up (expletive),” as Lurry lapsed into a coma.

The Will Grundy Major Crimes Task Force, the agency that reviews deaths that occur in the course of arrests, investigated the Lurry matter last year and concluded that his death was the result of a self-induced drug overdose and found no wrongdoing on behalf of the police.

Capparelli said Connolly was hired to do an investigation that otherwise would have been done by the city Inspector General Chris Regis, a former Joliet police officer.

“No matter what he found,” Capparelli said of Regis, “I think people would have thought it would have been influenced by his previous experience.”

The inspector general operates under the supervision of the mayor.

While Capparelli described Connolly’s investigation as one looking into the police handling of Lurry’s arrest, Mayor Bob O’Dekirk described the focus differently.

O’Dekirk said Connolly was hired to look into matters related to the civil lawsuit brought by Lurry’s widow.

Nicole Lurry, widow of Eric Lurry, the Joliet man who died of an overdose in police custody, holds a sign calling for justice on Tuesday, April 27, 2021, at the corner of Larkin Ave. and Jefferson st. in Joliet, Ill.

“There’s a number of outstanding issues and issues that could cause the city considerable trouble when we get to federal court that need to be resolved,” O’Dekirk said.

Asked why a second outside law firm was needed, O’Dekirk said, “This isn’t an internal affairs issue. It’s two different things.”

Joliet Mayor Bob O'Dekirk

O’Dekirk last year also sent a letter to the Illinois Attorney General seeking a review of the Lurry matter. O’Dekirk and Capparelli said there has been to response to that request.

Connolly could not be reached Wednesday for comment.

His website describes his legal specialties as truck enforcement defense, criminal law and real estate

He also seres as commander of the 117th Legal Operations Detatchment in Arizona for the Army Reserve Judge Advocate General’s Corps, which Capparelli said qualifies him for the job in Joliet.

“He oversees these kind of cases in the military,” Capparelli said. “These kind of things are not unique to Joliet.”

Capparelli, a private attorney before being hired as city manager in January and a former colonel in the Army Reserves himself, said he knows Connolly as a fellow attorney from previous work at the Will County Courthouse.