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Jacobson documents provide details into MCC firing

He lost MCC job for viewing pornographic emails at work

Published: Saturday, May 3, 2014 11:49 p.m. CDT • Updated: Sunday, May 4, 2014 7:53 a.m. CDT

Hebron Village President John Jacobson, for years, had been viewing pornographic photos and videos through his work email and forwarding them during work hours, sometimes to colleagues, before he was fired from McHenry County College in February 2013.

The new details regarding the college’s investigation came from documents obtained by the Northwest Herald last week after the newspaper challenged MCC’s response to a Freedom of Information Act request made in February.

In addition to laying out in 15 bullet points the school’s reasons for firing Jacobson, the documents show the origins of the investigation, which began Jan. 17, 2013, in response to Jacobson’s arrest for possession of crack cocaine two days earlier.

In February, MCC responded to a Northwest Herald FOIA request for information surrounding investigations of Jacobson by providing the school’s termination letter and the agenda and minutes from the meeting he was dismissed. But the school claimed several other materials, including a letter from MCC President Vicky Smith to Jacobson summarizing the school’s investigation of him, were exempt.

They also denied the existence of a campus police report specifically referenced by a McHenry County State’s Attorney’s Office official during an interview with the Northwest Herald.

Smith’s 8-page letter, provided by the college’s attorney this week along with several other additional documents, gave an exhibit-by-exhibit description of graphic and inappropriate images and videos Jacobson had viewed or forwarded. Some of the inappropriate emails have subject lines containing “XXX,” while other subject lines are vague, such as “Pictures – too good to pass up,” or misleading, such as “Sunsets, my favorite time of day.”

The letter also moved point-by-point through Jacobson’s interview with MCC officials. At one point, he admitted a photo containing adolescent boys in the nude was “probably illegal.” At several others, he admitted viewing the material during work hours, according to the letter.

The letter said the documents were “sent by or forwarded to individuals you [Jacobson] knew, including family members, friends and other College employees.”

Smith also pointed out Jacobson was insubordinate in keeping personal tools at the college when asked repeatedly to remove them. But most of her 15 reasons for recommending Jacobson’s firing in the letter dealt with his misuse of the college’s email system.

“The e-mails, attachments and videos you received were not isolated incidents,” Smith wrote. “You communicated repeatedly with individuals you knew, viewed and saved the images, and forwarded the images sometimes months or years after you initially received them.”

Jacobson said Friday that the emails were sent to him, and that he didn’t seek out the inappropriate material. He also denied forwarding them.

“I opened them because I did not know what was there,” he said.

Jacobson said his focus was on the village of Hebron, which is in talks with the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency to rework the loan on its wastewater treatment plant, negotiations that will have much to do with the village’s financial health going forward.

“You’re digging up old stories,” Jacobson said. “We got some real issues going on in our village. That’s what I have to focus on.”

After an initial request for review of a FOIA response, public bodies get a chance to back their exemptions to the attorney general. Their response gets sent to the individual who requested the review, who typically gets a chance for rebuttal before a ruling from the attorney general.

But after their initial response to the request for review, MCC’s attorney sent several additional documents to the Northwest Herald, including the letter from Smith and a short letter from an administrator to Jacobson that placed him on suspension as the investigation launched. The school initially denied again that a police report existed.

A day later, after the Northwest Herald contacted the state’s attorney’s office, MCC FOIA Officer Laura Brown sent the report to the Northwest Herald.

On Friday, State’s Attorney Lou Bianchi said he’d left a message for Smith regarding the report. She responded with a voicemail saying it had been sent to the paper, Bianchi said.

“That was the extent of the message,” he said.

MCC spokeswoman Christina Haggerty said Friday that the document was withheld because it was an “information report” that was used during an “internal investigation.”

Other documents of the internal investigation the college said are exempt from disclosure were listed in MCC’s response to the request for review. The report from campus police wasn’t referenced, but the response did reiterate that the school was not in possession of a “police report.”

Earlier this year, Brown said the college had consulted with the state’s attorney’s office but hadn’t forwarded the office any documents. The report shows a record that it had been sent twice to the office – once in February 2013 – before Jacobson’s firing – and again Feb. 28, 2014, during the Northwest Herald’s investigation into Jacobson.

The report provided few unknown details. Some of the pornographic images Jacobson had received and forwarded contained images of children with exposed genitalia. The state’s attorney’s office determined the images didn’t meet the threshold for child porn because they weren’t sexual in nature, said Assistant State’s Attorney Michael Combs, chief of the criminal division.

The report noted that there was “no criminal intent to justify prosecution.”

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