A lawsuit filed against the Lake County Coroner’s Office alleges that a former employee was retaliated against after he refused to return his retired canine to the coroner’s office.
The federal lawsuit was filed Thursday in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois.
Gurnee resident Jason Patt was the chief deputy coroner at the Lake County Coroner’s Office.
Patt, a U.S. Navy veteran, began his 21-year law enforcement career as a military patrolman and later worked for the Lake County Sheriff’s Office as a corrections officer.
He joined the coroner’s office in 2007 and worked there for 13 years.
Patt had created the office’s first canine program, which was funded through grants, the suit said.
He was the handler to Bones, a Belgian Malinois, which was a cadaver-sniffing dog. The two spent “nearly every hour of the day” together.
The lawsuit said Patt began enforcing separation time with Bones by doing various changes, including having the dog sleep in the basement instead of his bedroom, in the months leading up to the November 2020 election.
He knew his position was appointed and if a new coroner took office his job was at risk, which could have an emotional impact on Bones if they could not be together constantly anymore, the suit said.
The result of the separation time was a “disaster” for Bones, who began defecating indoors, barking, destroying furniture and doing other unusual activities.
Outgoing coroner Howard Cooper decided to retire Bones in accordance with Illinois’ Police Dog Retirement Act and allowed Patt to adopt him.
The lawsuit said Lake County Coroner Jennifer Banek, the day before she assumed office in 2020, directed Patt to submit a retirement letter or else he would be terminated.
Patt agreed and submitted the letter of retirement on the day Banek assumed office on December 1, 2020.
The suit said Banek “became furious” with Patt when she learned that he had adopted Bones.
Banek sent a letter to Patt on December 11, 2020, demanding Patt return Bones to the coroner’s office.
Patt refused and said that the canine had been legally retired due to his diagnosed separation anxiety.
“Unbeknownst to Patt, his adoption of Bones prompted Banek to exact unlawful retribution against Patt, though he had done absolutely nothing wrong,” the lawsuit said.
Patt had been in discussions with the Lake County Sheriff’s Office about employment opportunities but those ended after Banek assumed office. “Those discussions ended; the line went dead,” the suit said.
Patt went on to get rejected by numerous other entities for jobs he applied for, “often deep into the interview process.”
An investigator for a position that Patt was eventually hired for told him that he reached out to Banek during the security clearance process.
Banek allegedly told that investigator that Patt was not eligible for rehire with her office because he was “AWOL” and not performing his duties, the suit said.
The investigator told Patt that Banek said “other bad things” about him.
Patt then went on to file a Freedom of Information Act request with the coroner’s office.
He learned from his FOIA request that Banek told the investigator that Patt had often failed to show up to work, engaged in extramarital affairs and she had adverse information about finances and Patt’s “general behavior or conduct.”
The lawsuit said Banek’s statements were false and she made them in a “deliberate effort to harm” Patt.
“It is now apparent that Banek made such statements to other prospective employers who called about Patt’s record with the Coroner’s Office,” the suit said.
Banek told Lake and McHenry County Scanner that her office has no comment on the lawsuit due to the pending litigation.