State AG launches investigation into Joliet Police Department

Attorney General Kwame Raoul announced his office’s first “pattern and practice” investigation into a local police department.

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Illinois Attorney General Kwame Raoul speaks during a news conference at the Thompson Center to announce a civil rights pattern-and-practice investigation in Will County, Wednesday morning, Sept. 8, 2021.

Illinois Attorney General Kwame Raoul announces a civil rights investigation of the Joliet Police Department.

Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times file

Attorney General Kwame Raoul’s office will investigate the Joliet Police Department for evidence of a pattern of civil rights abuses, a move that comes more than a year after a suspect died in police custody.

Raoul on Wednesday announced the probe of the southwest suburban department will be a “pattern and practice” investigation of department policies, training, disciplinary system, uses of force and other areas, a review similar to the one conducted by the Justice Department of the Chicago Police Department after the fatal police shooting of Laquan McDonald.

Raoul said his office began a “preliminary investigation” in the summer of 2020 at the request of Joliet Mayor Bob O’Dekirk and city council members. Raoul declined to say what that review turned up, but the AG said his investigators would not be looking into specific incidents such as the 2020 death of drug suspect Eric Lurry, who died of a fentanyl overdose after being suffocated and having a baton forced into his mouth by Joliet police officers while in the back of a police cruiser.

“We will not be making specific findings about one incident or any one Joliet Police Department officer,” Raoul said Wednesday during a news conference at the Thompson Center. “The investigation will look at the larger picture in an effort to prevent future incidents from happening rather than looking back and trying to penalize the Joliet Police Department or specific officers.”

The Joliet city manager’s office issued a statement after the news conference. “The city of Joliet is aware the Illinois Attorney General’s Office has opened a civil investigation concerning possible patterns or practices of unconstitutional or unlawful policing by the Joliet Police Department. ... The city of Joliet remains committed to serving the community and will continue to cooperate with the Attorney General’s Office during the investigation.”

The investigation is the first undertaken by the office under investigative powers provided under a package of police reform laws passed earlier this year as the SAFE-T Act, Raoul said.

Lurry’s family praised Raoul for opening a “full-blown” investigation, which they said was sparked by the publicity surrounding Lurry’s death, and called for criminal charges against the officers involved.

“We are saddened that Eric Lurry had to lose his life in order for change to come,” attorney Abby Bakos, lawyer for Lurry’s widow, Nicole Lurry, wrote in a statement. “We urge State’s Attorney (James) Glasgow to reconsider criminal charges against the officers involved as it is clear that their actions violated the law and led to Mr. Lurry’s untimely death.”

The DOJ pattern and practice investigation of CPD in 2016 lasted some 16 months and produced a scathing report that was used by Raoul’s predecessor, Lisa Madigan, as the basis for a civil lawsuit that led to a consent decree and federal oversight of CPD. A public meeting, the first of several to be hosted by the AG’s office as part of the agency’s fact-finding, is scheduled for 4 p.m. Wednesday at the Joliet Area Historical Society in downtown Joliet.

Raoul would not say how long the state-level investigation of the Joliet PD might take, nor what the outcome might be. O’Dekirk requested an investigation in June 2020 not long after video was leaked of Lurry in the back of the squad car before his overdose death.

An investigation by police and Will County prosecutors found that Lurry’s death was an accidental overdose, and that the officers’ actions were not to blame. Joliet police would later move to fire a police sergeant who leaked the video. No charges have been filed in Lurry’s death. No representative from Will County or Joliet was present at the news conference.

Raoul said his probe will be a civil investigation, but his office would be able to refer out findings to other agencies for potential criminal charges as the AG does in investigations of scams or environmental pollution. Raoul would not say if his investigation was likely to lead to the sort of federal lawsuit that led to the CPD consent decree, stating he did not want to appear to have a predetermined outcome in mind.

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