Police union endorses Lake County Sheriff’s challenger, Jason Patt

The Teamsters Local 700, the union representing corrections officers and supervisors along with lieutenants and sergeants of the Lake County Sheriff’s Highway Patrol Division, has endorsed the sheriff’s opponent in the upcoming election.

But Lake County Sheriff Mark Curran says he almost takes it as a “badge of honor” because he fired four correctional officers and disciplined another nine officers following the death of inmate Eugene Gruber, 51, of Grayslake. Gruber died in a Chicago rehabilitation institute from injuries he sustained in the Lake County Jail.

“Essentially this is about the fact we fired people who were dragging an inmate with a broken neck down the hallway. Everybody saw the video,” said Curran, who is facing Democratic challenger Jason Patt on the Nov. 4 ballot.

“Correction officers were not truthful and they did not follow policies,” Curran said.

Since then, the jail’s 138 policies were reviewed and six critical policies were rewritten and one new policy was created. The sheriff’s office also budgeted about $1 million for a new camera system because some jail cameras couldn’t record and there were blind spots in the facility. A camera also has been installed in the shower area where Gruber fought with officers.

Patt, currently an investigator in the Lake County Coroner’s Office, welcomed the endorsement from Teamsters Local 700.

“This much-appreciated endorsement by Teamsters Local 700 is yet another indication that change is imminent. The Sheriff’s Office needs an immediate realignment of management and an injection of ethics, accountability and fairness,” Patt said.

He added that he plans to eliminate ineffective management positions, strengthen policies and hire more officers to serve residents while restoring the reputation of the office. Patt also said he’d turn the tide of embarrassing headlines, lawsuits and staff disruption that he said have marked Curran’s stint as sheriff while costing Lake County taxpayers millions of dollars.

Becky Strzechowski, Teamsters Local 700 president, said the union supports Patt whole-heartedly.

“The current corrosive atmosphere in the Sheriff’s Department is damaging to the hardworking law enforcement members who are dedicated to the county they serve and protect,” she said. “Our members deserve a sheriff who will work with us, not against us. It’s time for a change in Lake County. It’s time for a sheriff who has real life experience in law enforcement. Jason Patt understands how a Sheriff’s Department should run and he’s earned our endorsement.”

She also took issue with Curran’s claim that the endorsement is due to him firing several members of Local 700, saying that the discipline was handed down well after the death occurred.

Strzechowski said Curran is shifting the blame after failing to provide appropriate medical care resulted in death.

Curran took exception to the charge that he delayed an investigation before firing and disciplining the officers. He said both the county attorney’s and Gruber’s attorneys asked them to put off their own internal investigation during the civil lawsuit. County attorneys said if they didn’t delay they could add to their liability.

“In the interest of a fair investigation we took their recommendations and held off,” Curran said.

He concluded that the union endorsement is just about protecting its members.

“My goal is to serve and protect the community and not teamsters Local 700,” Curran said. “They don’t like that we didn’t look the other way. We are raising the bar, not circling the wagons. We are about serving the citizens of Lake County.”

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