Joliet City Council reacts to AG probe of police

Not the investigation they asked for, mayor and two council members say.

Several Joliet City Council members reached Thursday said they welcomed a state attorney general investigation into the police department but some noted it’s not the investigation they asked for 15 months ago.

Attorney General Kwame Raoul on Wednesday pointed to a letter he received from Joliet officials in June 2020 as he announced a civil investigation into possible patterns and practices of unconstitutional or unlawful policing in Joliet.

The letter written by Mayor Bob O’Dekirk and signed by three City Council members asked for an attorney general investigation as police video was beginning to emerge showing suspect Eric Lurry Jr. lapsing into a fatal coma while in custody before police probed his mouth and pulled out what appeared to be plastic bags of narcotics he is believed to have ingested during the course of an arrest.

“That letter was about the Lurry situation,” O’Dekirk said. “They made it clear that this (investigation) is beyond the Eric Lurry case.”

O’Dekirk, who met with Raoul on Tuesday, said the city has pledged its cooperation in the investigation.

He and council members said they do not know what the attorney general is investigating.

“As far as I’m aware, this is the first response to the letter we sent 15 months ago,” said Councilman Larry Hug, who signed the letter. “They’re not looking at the contents of that letter. They’re looking at other things that I’m not aware of.”

The Joliet Police Department has been rife with controversy in recent years that at times pitted police administration against the mayor’s office. Several police officers are facing criminal charges, including Sgt. Javier Esqueda, who publicly released video from the Lurry arrest and then was arrested under the previous police administration for unauthorized release of the video.

“You can’t fault the new administration now for what was done then,” said Councilwoman Jan Quillman, who questioned why the attorney general was starting an investigation now. “I don’t know what they’re going to look for.”

Police Chief Dawn Malec was appointed in January after the departure of Chief Al Roechner, who was under pressure to leave and put in for retirement on the same day that Joliet hired a new city manager. Malec replaced three of the four deputy chiefs in the command staff.

At least one council member, however, believes potential issues go beyond the recent change of police chiefs.

Councilman Cesar Guerrero met with Raoul on Wednesday after the attorney general talked to a selected group of residents about the nature of the investigation.

Raoul told the group that the investigation will go back five years, and some of the residents at the meeting wanted it to go back farther, Guerrero said.

“I hope if nothing else, I hope this bring some clarity,” Guerrero said of the investigation into possible unlawful policing. “If you speak to different residents of Joliet, they will tell you anecdotally they’ve known this has been happening for decades. Anecdotes are no match for a formalized investigation. I hope this can bring an impartial and objective look at what many believe is needed in our city, which is criminal justice reform.”

Councilwoman Bettye Gavin said she welcomed the investigation and suggested it could go beyond the police department into related issues in city hall.

Gavin pointed to a claim by the mayor in 2019 that Roechner was under investigation after a memo from the chief surfaced accusing O’Dekirk of making false accusations that a police sergeant was drunk while working security at a street festival.

“There were a lot of allegations coming from the mayor about the police department,” Gavin said. “If they could look into some of those things, it would be good to put them to rest.”