ST. JOSEPH — No charges are being filed against the former staff members of the Humane Society of Southwestern Michigan who resigned in February, according to Berrien County Prosecutor Steve Pierangeli.
“The investigation found the computer equipment believed to be stolen was located at the Humane Society,” he wrote in a news release sent Monday, March 29. “In addition, the investigation did not show any criminal activity with the use of computer systems. There were no allegations and no evidence found that any monetary accounts used by the Humane Society had been inappropriately used. Therefore, no additional actions will be taken by the Prosecutor’s Office at this time.”
Five staff members, including former Executive Director Jill Svoboda, resigned Feb. 23 due to the board of directors creating an alleged “toxic” work environment. The next day, board members contacted the Berrien County Sheriff’s Office seeking an investigation into alleged irregularities that board members say they found on the shelter’s computer system.
Last week, a kennel technician who had stayed behind resigned, alleging that the animals weren’t being taken care of properly and that the remaining staff was being treated poorly.
When contacted by phone Monday, Svoboda said she feels like a huge weight has been lifted off of her. She said she and the other workers who resigned originally planned to quietly walk away from their jobs and not create a fuss, so the shelter didn’t suffer. But as the investigation continued, she said they felt they had to speak up.
“My name has been slandered and defamed,” she said. “I’ve been unable to look for a job this entire month.”
“We were there for one reason and that was for the animals,” Svoboda added. “... We weren’t there for our egos. We weren’t there to get recognition.”
Svoboda said she will continue to work with the group that is calling for board President Ron Klemm and the board members who support him to resign. The group has protested across the street from the shelter for the past two Saturdays.
“Ron Klemm and his board needs to step down,” Svoboda said. “Even if I don’t get my job back, that’s OK. I want what’s best for the animals.”
Shannon White of Berrien Springs said Monday the Saturday protests will continue until changes are made. White is behind the Facebook page Friends of the Humane Society of Southwestern Michigan, which is organizing the protests.
Former board member Don Blackmond said Monday that he stands behind his previous statements backing Svoboda. “I would have been very surprised if there had been charges filed against Jill or her staff. ... It would have been very shocking to me,” said Blackmond, who worked with Svoboda for 10 years, eight of them as president of the board.
Blackmond said he resigned from the board in January, in part, because he said the board was trying to micromanage operations at the shelter.
After Pierangeli announced that no criminal charges would be filed, the board sent out its own news release delving into details of the allegations against Svoboda and her staff.
The release was sent to the media by Klemm and listed as the contact person new board member Lynne Christiano.
When contacted on Monday, Christiano said she can’t speak to the details in the release because she wasn’t at the shelter when the events happened. She said she wants to assure the public that board members are making sure the animals are being cared for properly.
“We are ready to move forward and focus on the mission of the Humane Society, which is the comfort and care of the animals until we place them in loving homes,” she said.
Klemm declined to comment.
One of the new allegations is that a security video shows Svoboda and staff members removing files, pictures, and dog and cat food from the shelter.
Svoboda said she was asked about the video by police investigating the board’s claims.
“We were removing garbage, not files,” she said. “We removed garbage every day. I never took any dog food.”
She said the only pictures she took were her personal ones.