Last year, the attorney general of the Joliet Police Department launched an investigation to determine whether or not there was an ongoing pattern of abuses within the department. The investigation is set to determine whether or not there has been a pattern of unconstitutional policing in Joliet.
The investigation came after a man died while in police custody. Video footage, which surfaced five months after the initial incident, shows police attempting to communicate with a handcuffed suspect. At one point, they can be seen pinching his nose and striking him while his hands were cuffed behind his back. The suspect appears unresponsive. He died at the hospital later that evening. The official cause of death was ruled a fentanyl overdose.
The investigation is civil in nature, not criminal. It could result in the reorganization of the department. None of the officers connected to the death were criminally charged. The investigation is focused on systemic problems and not individuals, according to the attorney general. The investigation was part of a joint effort by the city council and the mayor to open up an investigation into the department.
Differing theories on how the suspect died
The hospital listed the official cause of death as a fentanyl overdose. However, an attorney representing the wife of the deceased man and her lawyer believe that the suspect was suffocated to death after police attempted to get him to open his mouth by pinching his nose closed and then shoving a baton down his throat in an effort to get him to vomit up swallowed baggies of drugs. An investigation cleared the officers of criminal wrongdoing but the department admitted that there may be some protocols that were not followed.
The wife of the suspect believes that the police should have brought her husband to the hospital as soon as it was obvious he could not respond to the officer’s questions. Instead, they continued to impair the airways of a man who they believed was on fentanyl, a drug that can cause respiratory distress and failure. In other words, the drug itself makes respiration more difficult, and then the police added more distress to the situation.
Life and death
The incident occurred during a drug sting which perhaps sealed the suspect’s fate. In most cases of ODs, it is not police who respond but EMTs. EMTs are trained to deal with those who are in respiratory arrest. Police officers do not know what they are doing. In this case, they contributed to the man’s death. The man should have been brought directly to the hospital, but because he was arrested during a drug sting, the police treated him like a suspect and not a victim. Now, he is dead, the entire department is under investigation, and confidence in the police continues to dwindle.
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