A lawsuit against the Lake County Coroner’s Office says that an ex-employee was mistreated because he wouldn’t return his retired dog to the office. The case was filed in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois on Thursday. At the Lake County Coroner’s Office, Jason Patt, who lived in Gurnee, was the chief deputy coroner.
Patt, a veteran of the U.S. Navy, began his 21-year career in law enforcement as a military patrolman. He then worked as a corrections officer for the Lake County Sheriff’s Office. He started working at the coroner’s office in 2007 and stayed there for 13 years.
The suit said that Patt made the office’s first canine program, which was paid for by grants. He was in charge of Bones, a Belgian Malinois who could smell dead bodies. They were together “nearly every hour of the day.”
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The lawsuit said that in the months before the 2020 election, Patt started separating himself from Bones by making changes like making the dog sleep in the basement instead of his bedroom.
The lawsuit said that he knew his job was given to him and that he could lose it if a new coroner took over. This could hurt Bones’ feelings if they couldn’t be together all the time. The time Bones spent alone was a “disaster” for him. He started pooping in the house, barking, destroying furniture, and doing other strange things.
After leaving his job as coroner, Howard Cooper decided to let Patt adopt Bones because of the Illinois Police Dog Retirement Act. The lawsuit said that Lake County Coroner Jennifer Banek told Patt to send a letter of retirement the day before she took office in 2020, or else he would be fired.
Patt agreed, and he turned in his letter of retirement on December 1, 2020, the day Banek took office. The lawsuit said that when Banek found out that Patt had adopted Bones, she “became furious” with him. Banek sent Patt a letter on December 11, 2020, telling him that he had to give Bones back to the coroner’s office.
Patt refused and said that the dog was no longer allowed to live with him because he had been diagnosed with separation anxiety. The lawsuit said, “Patt didn’t know that his decision to adopt Bones caused Banek to punish him illegally, even though Patt had done nothing wrong.”
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Patt had been talking with the Lake County Sheriff’s Office about possible jobs, but those talks stopped when Banek became sheriff. “Those talks stopped, and the phone line went dead,” the lawsuit said. Patt was turned down for jobs he applied for by a number of other places, “often well into the interview process.”
An investigator for a job that Patt was eventually hired for told him that he talked to Banek during the process of getting a security clearance. The suit says that Banek told the investigator that Patt could not work for her office again because he was “AWOL” and not doing his job. Patt was told by the investigator that Banek had said other bad things about him.
Patt then went to the coroner’s office and asked for information under the Freedom of Information Act. Through his FOIA request, he found out that Banek had told the investigator that Patt often didn’t show up to work and had extramarital affairs. She also had bad information about Patt’s finances and “general behaviour or conduct,” which means how she acts in general.
In the lawsuit, it was said that Banek’s claims were false and that she made them to “hurt” Patt. The lawsuit said, “It is now clear that Banek said similar things to other potential employers who called about Patt’s record with the Coroner’s Office.” Banek told the Lake and McHenry County Scanner that her office doesn’t have anything to say about the lawsuit because it is still in court.
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