Columns

Hosey: Prosecutor calls foul on ‘whistleblower’ tag

If an assistant state’s attorney out in Kendall County gets his way, nobody will be allowed to call Joliet police Sgt. Javier Esqueda a “whistleblower” during his trial — if he ever goes to trial — on felony charges of official misconduct.

This assistant state’s attorney, Mark Shlifka, doesn’t want any talk of Esqueda’s supposed whistleblowing because Esqueda’s not a whistleblower, at least not under Illinois law.

To fit the criteria of a whistleblower and enjoy all the protections that entails, Esqueda needed to report what he believed to be illegal activity to a “government or law enforcement agency,” if you’re going to go by what the law says.

Esqueda didn’t do that. Instead, he went to the TV news with a video showing a man named Eric Lurry dying of a drug overdose in the back of a squad car in January 2020.

Lurry was arrested at what police said was the scene of a drug deal and it looked like he was chewing on something in the back of the squad car for quite a while before he passed out. Postmortem testing showed there was enough heroin, fentanyl and cocaine in Lurry to kill 10 men, according to the coroner’s office, and his death came just four months after six died of fentanyl overdoses in the Joliet area in less than a week.

Maybe the illegal activity Esqueda was trying to expose was Lurry’s possession of heroin, fentanyl and cocaine, but prosecutors claim he wasn’t actually interested in shining light on lawlessness. What Esqueda was really trying to do, according to a motion filed by Shlifka, was leverage himself out of some trouble he had gotten into at the police department over two separate matters.

In fact, the motion said, Esqueda told another police sergeant he suspected he was going to lose his job and saw the Lurry video as “his ‘trump card’ card if he was disciplined for those incidents.”

The worst thing about this for Esqueda is that he lives in the small part of Joliet that is in Kendall County and not in Will County. The state’s attorney here in Will County, Jim Glasgow, never would have had the nerve to charge Esqueda with anything for leaking the squad car video, much less something as serious as official misconduct.

Will County States Attorney James Glasgow speaks to the Herald-News on Friday, Feb. 7, 2020, in Joliet, Ill.

If anything, Glasgow would have dropped the case so fast you’d think it was burning his hands and left it for a special prosecutor to take care of. And with a special prosecutor taking care of things for Glasgow, Esqueda likely wouldn’t have much to worry about.

But Esqueda does live in Kendall County and now a prosecutor there is trying to stop anyone from calling him a whistleblower during his criminal trial.

One thing they can still call Esqueda, either at his trial or any other time, is a police officer, even though he was charged with felonies nearly a year and a half ago.

The last police chief said City Manager Jim Capparelli fired her — even though it turned out that wasn’t something he’s allowed to do — when she tried to hold a hearing that could have ended with Esqueda no longer being a police officer.

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.

The guy they hired to replace her as chief hasn’t taken any such drastic action in his month with the department. You have to think he must know better.

• Joe Hosey is the editor of The Herald-News. You can reach him at 815-280-4094, at jhosey@shawmedia.com or on Twitter @JoeHosey.

Joseph Hosey

Joseph Hosey

Joe Hosey became editor of The Herald-News in 2018. As a reporter, he covered the disappearance of Stacy Peterson and criminal investigation of her husband, former Bolingbrook police Sgt. Drew Peterson. He was the 2015 Illinois Journalist of the Year and 2014 National Press Club John Aubuchon Press Freedom Award winner.