A police sergeant in Joliet, Illinois, has been stripped of his police powers and placed on administrative leave after he blew the whistle on the cover-up of the killing of a man who was effectively tortured by his fellow officers.
Community members are hailing the actions of whistleblower police Sgt. Javier “Butch” Esqueda, who was moved to reveal the grisly nature of the in-custody death of Eric Lurry, a Black man from Joliet, who was choked to death in the back of a squad car in grueling footage captured on video.
On Tuesday, protesters rallied around the Joliet Police Department calling for justice for Lurry while praising Sgt. Esqueda, a 27-year veteran of the force who has faced retaliation after breaking the code of silence regarding what he sees as the criminal actions of his colleagues, reports CBS2 Chicago.
Cop who blew whistle on death of #EricLurry is stripped of his badge. “That’s what you get,” says one source for going against the “blue wall of silence” Lurry had nose pinched shut for 98 seconds in cuffs. Police Sgt Javier Esqueda, a 27 year vet fighting for job. @cbschicago pic.twitter.com/E61I1pGqcQ
— Dave Savini CBS (@davesavinicbs2) July 7, 2020
Joliet City Manager Steve Jones quit following a Tuesday City Council meeting where the brutal events surrounding Lurry’s death were discussed. During the session, Joliet Mayor Bob O’Dekirk remarked that he had “grave concerns” over the footage and subsequent cover-up by Joliet PD.
Eric Lurry Jr., 37, was arrested in an undercover drug operation after he was allegedly found to be hiding drugs in his mouth. Police claim that he suffered a medical emergency while he was in custody before he later died at St. Joseph’s Hospital. The Will County coroner’s office later ruled his death to be accidental and the result of h*****, f******l, and c*****e intoxication, with Lurry having over 10 times the lethal dosage in his system.
However, the facts that emerged from video recorded in the squad car depict a far different picture.
In the video, Joliet Police Sgt. Doug May and another officer can be seen shaking a handcuffed Lurry and beating him while holding his nose shut in an attempt to force the drugs out of his mouth. Lurry was motionless as the officers held him down.
At some point, one of the officers placed his baton in Lurry’s mouth before officers shined a flashlight in his mouth and he slumped over.
Internal investigators later found that Esqueda gained unauthorized access to the video from the Will-Grundy Major Crimes Task Force before he handed the footage over to CBS2.
The ensuing scandal has outraged community members and led to calls for an independent investigation of Lurry’s death.
“He was suffocating,” Esqueda said. “In my opinion, anybody would suffocate in that situation.”
For five months, the video never saw the light of day while the officers who killed Lurry were cleared of any wrongdoing. Additionally, the video was stripped of all sound – meaning that police tampered with the footage to remove any incriminating audio.
“It was almost like the supervisor looks off and says something to somebody, and then you hear the sound cut out,” Esqueda added. “That’s what alerted me that possibly, they were trying to get rid of evidence.”
“There had to be” a deliberate attempt to remove the audio, he added. “There’s no way that can happen.”
Esqueda was stirred by the shocking footage to reveal it to the public, knowing full well that Lurry’s family would never come close to attaining justice for their lost loved one if he didn’t act.
Esqueda knew that his superiors would come down on him hard if he broke the unofficial “code of silence” by which police officers are bound.
“There’s some fear [of retaliation],” Esqueda said. “[But] when you see stuff like this, you have to come forward. You can’t sit there and be quiet, because then, we’re just part of the problem.”
On Monday, Esqueda was placed on administrative duty in the Joliet PD records section as the department launched a criminal probe and internal investigation.
“The video that was accessed was shared outside the police department, violating chain of custody and potentially evidence in the criminal matter,” JPD Chief Al Roechner told the Joliet Herald-News. “When this was found out on June 18 of 2020, I immediately opened a criminal investigation.”
However, the local community and even the Black Police Officers Association, which has 30 members of various ranks, is backing Esqueda.
“He’s a member, and we’re going to back him,” Dave Jackson, president of the Joliet BPOA chapter, told Joliet Patch.
“If someone’s doing the right thing, we’re going to stand right there with them,” he added. “Sergeant Esqueda has been held as a well-respected supervisor and United States Marine and has served his country and his community proudly.”
“Without Sgt. Esqueda drawing attention to this death to city officials, this in-custody death may still be pending,” Jackson said.
For Esqueda, releasing the footage was crucial in terms of restoring trust with the community and sending the message that not all cops are brutal killers who abuse vulnerable civilians under the color of authority.
“In light of everything that’s’ been happening – you know George Floyd really had a lot of us police officers [upset],” Esqueda said. “When we saw that video, a lot of us cried. People don’t believe that.”
“But the thing is, there are a lot of good officers out of 750,000,” he added. “Not everybody is a bad cop. Most cops that I know were upset by George Floyd.”
Watching the grueling and painful death of Eric Lurry at the hands of his brothers struck an equally if not more powerful emotional chord with Esqueda.
“Seeing that video was so disturbing, I cried,” Esqueda said. “Every day, having to live with that was a hard thing, knowing this administration was probably going to do nothing about it.”
In the meantime, Lurry’s loved ones have been left to pick up the pieces after his fatal run-in with the law.
“That was my soulmate, my best friend,” widow Nicole Lurry said. “For him to just be gone in a blink of an eye, it just tears me up inside.”
However, Lurry’s family is deeply grateful to Sgt. Esqueda for his brave and selfless act.
“He’s supposed to tell,” said Lurry’s cousin, Effie Lee. “That’s what police officers are supposed to do. He’s supposed to lead by example, and he did … He said he cried for days seeing my cousin treated like that.”
Community members are now circulating a petition on Change.org titled “Immediate and Full Reinstatement of Police Sergeant Javier Esqueda.”
“[Sgt. Esqueda]’s one of the few honorable police officers,” the petition reads. “The rest are corrupting the force. Those are the ones who should be fired.”
“Sgt. Esqueda stood up for what is right,” it added. “He is now being scapegoated by the JPD while they’re trying to cover their asses.”
Prison Guard Who Had Sex With Inmate In Front Of 11 Prisoners Is Now Behind Bars
A prison guard in California now finds herself behind bars after she was caught having sexual relations with an inmate – in one case, performing the act in full view of 11 other prisoners.
Former Fresno County correctional officer Tina Gonzalez, 26, was arrested last May following an investigation by the vice unit of the Fresno County Sheriff’s Office’s and its internal affairs division.
Gonzalez, who worked as a prison guard from 2016 to 2019, was investigated after authorities were tipped off that an inmate was having sex with a prison guard who had also smuggled in a phone, reports the Fresno Bee.
In one case, Gonzalez even cut a hole in the pants of her uniform to allow easier access during sexual acts with the unnamed prisoner at Fresno County Jail.
Gonzalez was also accused of having sex in full view of 11 inmates, an act that her former boss says “is something only a depraved mind can come up with.”
Assistant Sheriff Steve McComas, who once supervised the unit Gonzalez belonged to, said that in his entire career of 26 years he has witnessed some “pretty disgusting things” but none as bad as Gonzalez’s conduct.
“She took an oath which she betrayed and in doing so endangered her co-workers’ lives,” McComas said.
“But she has shown no remorse,” he added. “She continually calls and has sexually explicit conversations with the inmate in question and boasts about the crimes she carried out.”
Gonzalez pleaded no contest in April to one count of sexual activity by a detention facility employee with a consenting confined adult, one count of possession of drugs or an alcoholic beverage in a jail facility and a misdemeanor count of possession of cellular device with intent to deliver to an inmate.
When she was being sentenced, Judge Michael Idiart decried her acts as “terrible, stupid” and noted that her career had been “ruined.”
“But I also believe that people can redeem themselves and you have the rest of your life to do that,” the judge added. “Good luck.”
Gonzalez is now serving her sentence of seven months in county jail to be followed by two years of probation.
Judge Orders New Trove of Secret Ghislaine Maxwell Files to Be Unsealed This Month
A large trove of secretive files about Ghislaine Maxwell will be unsealed this month, including those shedding light on her relationship with disgraced late financier Jeffrey Epstein, a judge ruled on Thursday.
The documents will include details on her finances, as well as “funding received from the Clinton Global Initiative and the Clinton Foundation,” according to court records.
The documents are also believed to detail Maxwell’s extensive connections with powerful men such as Prince Andrew of the British royal family, reports the Daily Mail.
It has long been well-known that Epstein and Maxwell associated with both Clinton and former President Donald Trump. Clinton also reportedly met with accused Maxwell for an “intimate” dinner in 2014.
The documents are a part were filed by Epstein accuser and former “sex slave” Virginia Roberts Giuffre in a 2015 civil lawsuit against Maxwell and must be released in mid-July, Judge Loretta Preska ruled in Thursday’s telephone hearing.
Giuffre sued Maxwell for defamation after she was accused by the British socialite of fabricating the sexual abuse allegations against her and Epstein in the lawsuit, which has since been settled.
Last July, a deposition by Giuffre was unsealed. In the deposition, Giuffre went into detail about alleged “constant” orgies that Maxwell and the late pedophile engaged in on Epstein’s private Caribbean island.
“There’s just a blur of so many girls,” Giuffre explained in the 2015 deposition.
“There were blondes, there were brunettes, there were redheads,” she continued. “They were all beautiful girls. I would say the ages ranged between 15 and 21.”
“The island was a place where orgies were a constant thing that took place. And again, it’s impossible to know how many,” Giuffre said, noting that she was “100 percent certain” that Maxwell took part in sexual acts with the girls.
Maxwell is accused of grooming multiple minors to engage in sex acts with Epstein, her ex-boyfriend, by befriending them to ask them about their lives and families while building friendships with the young girls alongside Epstein by taking their victims on social outings or out shopping in the 1990s and 2000s.
Maxwell has been detained at the Metropolitan Detention Center in Brooklyn, New York, pending trial.
Her five appeals to be released from jail have all been rejected.
Epstein, 66, was found dead in a lone cell in the special housing unit (SHU) of a federal Manhattan prison in New York City while facing a potential prison sentence of up to 45 years on charges of pedophilia and sex trafficking.
2 More Catholic Churches in Canada Burned as Third Mass Gravesite for Indigenous Kids Found
An additional two Catholic churches have been the target of likely arson in Canada as anger continues to grow in the aftermath of the discovery of over 1,000 human remains belonging to Indigenous children.
The news coincides with the discovery of a third site where 182 unmarked graves were located near a discovered near a residential school in British Columbia’s interior.
Early Wednesday morning, firefighters were dispatched to respond to a fire at St. Jean Baptiste Parish in Morinville, Alberta, which was basically gutted by the blaze.
“The fire was already fully involved from the basement when the first fire crews got here,” Morinville’s infrastructure general manager Iain Bushell told CTV News. “They entered the building but there was already collapse occurring on the inside of the church so they backed out and it’s been a defensive or exterior fire fight ever since.”
Police officials have described the blaze as “suspicious.”
Roughly an hour later, a fire was also reported at the Catholic St. Kateri Tekakwitha Church in Sipekne’katik First Nation in Nova Scotia, reports CBC.
At least seven churches, nearly all Catholic, have come under apparent arson attacks throughout Canada in recent weeks. Activists and Indigenous advocates have also defaced Catholic churches with bloody red hand and foot prints, while demonstrations have also been staged involving stuffed animal and the slogan “we were children.”
While it remains unclear what precisely caused the fires, they are believed to be linked to the recent discovery of mass graves and unmarked graves containing over 1,000 human remains near Catholic-run residential schools for First Nations children.
The discovery came just few weeks after the grim discovery of 215 Indigenous children’s bodied by the Tk’emlúps te Secwe̓pemc First Nation in a mass grave at the site of the former Kamloops Indian Residential School in British Colombia.
Also last month, the Cowessess First Nation in Saskatchewan announced its discovery of 751 unmarked graves near the site of the former Marieval Indian Residential School, which operated from 1899 to 1997 in the area.
Another site with 182 unmarked graves was announced Wednesday after an investigation undertaken by the community of ʔaq’am, near Cranbrook, British Columbia.
About 150,000 First Nations children were forcibly separated from their families and communities and forced to attend the religious schools which were established in the 19th century to assimilate Indigenous children into the Anglo settler-colonial culture of Canada.
Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission has confirmed that large amounts of Indigenous children fled such residential schools or died there, their whereabouts unknown. Former students have also testified to the horrific sexual, mental and physical abuse they suffered while enrolled at the schools. Myriad students died from preventable diseases that rapidly spread in unsanitary conditions, as well as in accidents and fires. Others disappeared when trying to escape. The Commission has denounced the schools for institutionalizing child neglect and for being organs of “cultural genocide.”
Indigenous groups and Canadian politicians are also demanding an apology from the Catholic Church – specifically Pope Francis. Activists have also rejected Canada Day celebrations this year to highlight the anti-Indigenous atrocities that the founding of the North American country entailed.