Sergeant Javier Esqueda of the Joliet Police Department in Illinois thought he was doing the right thing by leaking a video recorded from inside of a squad car that showed a black man, Eric Lurry, in medical distress from a drug overdose being slapped and having a police baton forced in his mouth. Lurry later died from the overdose. Sergeant Esqueda received an award from the Lamplighter Project, an advocacy group for police whistleblowers. After an internal affairs investigation, the officers involved received minor punishments, one of them a six-day suspension for turning off the sound on the camera after a sergeant slapped Lurry and called him a “bitch.”

The minor slap on the wrist for the officers is not the only questionable aspect of this situation. Sergeant Esqueda’s department opened a criminal investigation and prosecutors have charged him with four counts of official misconduct, with a maximum sentence of twenty years in prison, because he was not authorized to access this footage. He is currently on paid administrative leave as he awaits the results of his trial and internal affairs investigation. Joliet Police chief Alan Roechner says that he does not believe Esqueda is a whistleblower, and some of his coworkers reported that they believe that Esqueda obtained the video in order to use it as a “trump card” to avoid discipline in an unrelated case. And in November, Sergeant Esqueda was expelled from his union, the Joliet Fraternal Order of Police Supervisor’s Association, by a 35–1 vote. His excommunication is significant because his union will no longer provide him counsel in the event that proceedings go against him and he faces termination.

This may seem strange in light of how police unions will fight tooth and nail for officers accused of egregious misconduct. But it makes perfect sense from the perspective of the organizational goals of police unions. Unions seek to maximize the wages, benefits, and job security of their...

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