LAKE COUNTY — Former Lake County Animal Shelter Director Jacquelyn Johnston won a lawsuit for her wrongful termination that occurred in 2014.
Her termination was on the basis of 147 euthanizations in less than two weeks in the position, including 20 in just one day. Many of the animals were considered potentially adoptable by staff.
Johnston’s termination was a quick decision made by the Lake County Sheriff’s Office who managaed the animal shelter at the time. The sheriff at the time, Gary Borders stated, “This decision was made on our watch and we have taken swift action to ensure it does not happen again”.
Johnston, a long-time advocate for animal welfare, stated she was scrutinized and defamed following the shameful termination.
This past week Johnston’s termination was deemed wrongful by a federal jury in a lawsuit she filed regarding her termination and defamation of her character.
Johnston was awarded $100,000 by the federal jury for the false statements regarding her termination.
According to the federal jury reports, statements made by the Sheriff’s department about the excessive euthanizing were “false and stigmatizing”. Jennifer Furgeson, an animal shelter supervisor at the time was found during the lawsuit to have acted maliciously toward Johnston and allegedly framed the director.
The internal investigation from 2014 also shows that Johnston should have been cleared of the unnecessary euthanizations and that Ferguson was indeed responsible for the action.
Euthanasia technician Diane Hagan has come forward with information regarding the day 20 animals were put down. Hagan stated that Johnston asked Ferguson to determine aggressiveness and adopt-ability of animals truthfully and that Ferguson continued the task without being honestly discerning about the animals.
Hagan claims many animals chosen to be put down were not aggressive, including a beloved beagle who was heartworm positive but had a sponsor for heartworm treatment.
Hagan’s testimony pins irresponsible decisions and manipulation of euthanization records on Jennifer Ferguson, including events where Ferguson claimed owners requested euthanasia even if they did not so that the “kill numbers” would appear lower for the shelter.
Sheriff’s Lt. John Herrell stated that the testimonies had no real evidence against either party, calling the situation “he said, she said”.
Following Johnston’s 2014 termination, the Board of County Commissioners took over control of the Animal Shelter from the Sheriff’s Office in January of 2017 and supervisor Ferguson, being a Sheriff employee, was taken out of the animal shelter and made lead animal enforcement officer
Johnston’s attorney claims that the original investigation was superficial at best and left out many key testimonies and in turn, Johnston lost her career and her reputation as an animal advocate.
Though the Sheriff’s Office claims no action will be taken against Jennifer Ferguson, many are fighting this decision and urging officials to terminate her from her position.
Arlynda Eckstein of Leesburg stated in an email, “Jennifer Ferguson needs to be fired immediately from her position as animal control officer. She not only broke the law; she killed countless animals and lied about it!”
These sentiments are echoed strongly in another statement from Mt. Dora resident Steve Shank who wrote, “So now that the truth has finally come out through a court of law, and Ms. Ferguson has been found culpable for ordering the killing and lying about it under oath, blaming Ms. Johnston, why does the person guilty of killing 20 animals still receive a paycheck from the taxpayers?”
“I am beyond appalled, disgusted, beyond angry and disappointed that this piece of dirt masquerading as a human being is still employed by the LCSO,” stated Catherine Bazner in an email.
At this time Lake County Sheriff’s Office had no made statements with intent to re-open the case or take any action against the officer.
Corrections were made from the original published article to clarify that Ferguson was an employee of Lake County Sheriff’s Office at the time of the wrongful termination of Johnston, and is still employed by the Sheriff’s department.
Currently the animal shelter is managed under the Lake County Board of County Commissioners.