Ex-an­i­mal ser­vices di­rec­tor awarded $100,000 by jury Woman says she was wrongly fired af­ter 147 pets were eu­th­a­nized

Orlando Sentinel - - LOCAL & STATE - By Martin E. Co­mas

A fed­eral jury awarded more than $100,000 to the for­mer di­rec­tor of Lake County’s An­i­mal Ser­vices Depart­ment, say­ing she was wrongly fired and her char­ac­ter de­famed by the Sher­iff’s Of­fice and an em­ployee in 2014 af­ter a to­tal of 147 pets were eu­th­a­nized within nine days af­ter she was hired.

“My name is now clear,” Jac­que­lyn John­ston said in a writ­ten state­ment re­leased by her at­tor­ney. “The re­ported rea­sons why some of these pets were killed were false. Their lives were cut short as a re­sult of ef­forts to harm me as di­rec­tor, and these pets paid a price.”

Sher­iff’s Lt. John Her­rell said the agency has no plans to ap­peal the verdict “as this sit­u­a­tion took place four years ago un­der a pre­vi­ous Sher­iff.”

John­ston said she plans to use a por­tion of the award — along with her own money — to set up The Harry Fund that will pro­vide up to $300 grants to shel­ters across Florida to med­i­cally treat dogs di­ag­nosed with heart­worm. Harry was a hound mix who was eu­th­a­nized af­ter re­sid­ing at the Lake County an­i­mal shel­ter for 59 days with­out re­ceiv­ing treat­ment for heart­worm.

John­ston’s at­tor­ney, Jason Gor­don, said his client is try­ing to put her life back to­gether by work­ing to­ward a doc­tor­ate de­gree in ge­og­ra­phy in South Florida.

Be­cause of the neg­a­tive pub­lic­ity her case gen­er­ated in the news and on so­cial me­dia, John­ston likely will never be able to work in the an­i­mal ser­vices field again, he said.

“This is some­thing that will fol­low her for­ever,” Gor­don said from his Fort Laud­erdale of­fice. “You don’t move on com­pletely from some­thing like this.”

Ac­cord­ing to the law­suit filed in Or­lando, John­ston said for­mer Lake County Sher­iff Gary Bor­ders and his of­fice in­tended to de­stroy her rep­u­ta­tion and bol­ster Bor­ders’ rep­u­ta­tion by an­nounc­ing her ter­mi­na­tion pub­licly, and that news agen­cies from around the coun­try and even “as far away as Lon­don” quickly picked up the story.

Her suit says she re­ceived threats posted on so­cial me­dia in­clud­ing call­ing for her to be eu­th­a­nized, lit on fire and sodom­ized to death.

On Oct. 1, 2014, the same day John­ston was hired, the Sher­iff ’s Of­fice un­der Bor­ders as­sumed con­trol of the An­i­mal Ser­vices Depart­ment.

John­ston was fired Oct. 10 — nine days into her pro­ba­tion­ary pe­riod — af­ter it was dis­cov­ered that the an­i­mals were eu­th­a­nized.

The Sher­iff ’s Of­fice re­leased a state­ment to the me­dia Oct. 13 stat­ing that “some of the an­i­mals were put down pre­ma­turely be­cause the shel­ter was not yet at ca­pac­ity even though John­ston gave the rea­son for eu­th­a­niz­ing the an­i­mals as lim­ited space. …

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