CROWN POINT | Lake County Sheriff John Buncich's first 10K Bicycle Ride to raise funds for the department's animal adoption center may be clouded by protesters panning the firing of the shelter's longtime community liaison, Victoria Beasley.
Beasley said Friday she was fired the day before for not following a direct order to return a family of pit bulls to their owner. When found, the pit bull parents had been chained to two trees in 90-degree weather with no food or water, she said. Eight 6-week-old puppies were running free.
Beasley said the dogs were taken May 29 after the owner had been told he had 36 hours to rectify the violations Beasley had discovered. The owner was told how to retrieve the dogs from the shelter once he was in compliance.
The dogs were taken under the same ordinances that have governed animal control for years, said Beasley, who has served under two sheriffs and three shelter directors. The ordinances do not require a warrant, only reasonable cause, she said.
Beasley said after several days, the center's current director, Deborah Mandich-Nowland, told her to return the dogs because the sheriff's attorney said a warrant had been required.
Beasley, who said she is commissioned as a deputy sheriff, asked for an order in writing but never received one, she said.
Meanwhile, Mandich-Nowland returned the dogs June 3 to the owner, according to Beasley.
On Thursday, Police Chief Tim Downs and Deputy Police Chief Dan Murchak visited the shelter to terminate Beasley for not following orders, Beasley said.
"I feel it's bogus," said Beasley, who said she has no political affiliations.
The sheriff's attorney, John Bushemi, said Friday he had reviewed Beasley's personnel records.
"Victoria Beasley was terminated for repeated instances of misconduct on the job," he said.
While noting it was a personnel matter, Buncich said Friday that Beasley was dismissed for cause.
"The Sheriff's Department is a law enforcement agency and functions as such," he said through the sheriff's spokeswoman Patti Van Til. "We must abide by all federal, state and local laws and will continue to do so as long as I am sheriff."
Linda Neering, of Cedar Lake, is among those protesting the firing.
"She's the heart of the place," Neering said of Beasley.
While flattered by the support, Beasley said she's not in support of possibly disrupting Saturday's fundraiser for the shelter. The 10K event in Griffith is planned to start at 11 a.m. on the Oak Ridge Savannah bike trail in Oak Ridge Prairie County Park. All proceeds will benefit educational efforts and the shelter's spaying/neutering program.
"I would rather people call (the sheriff) or show up at his office," she said.