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Facing discipline, morgue worker allegedly threatens to get a gun

Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle holds a press conference detailing plans for policy, personnel and procedural changes at the Cook County Medical Examiner’s Office, based on the results of an ongoing internal review of the department on Thursday, January 26, 2012. | Richard A. Chapman~Sun-Times

A Cook County morgue employee facing discipline threatened to go get a gun and bring it back to the West Side facility Tuesday, authorities said.

Joel L. Neason, 58, a $51,398-a-year autopsy technician, made the gun threat after management informed him he could be fired, Cook County sheriff’s spokesman Frank Bilecki said.

The disciplinary action against Neason arose from multiple investigations of bodies piling up and unhealthy working conditions at the facility, sources said.

Sheriff’s officers were summoned to the morgue, 2121 W. Harrison, after Neason allegedly made the threat, and they arrested him. Neason was charged with simple assault, a misdemeanor, and released on a recognizance bond, Bilecki said.

Neason is one of three staffers informed Tuesday they are facing discipline, including two who were placed on emergency suspension, the Sun-Times has learned.

A third employee was notified that he or she would be facing discipline but remains on the job, confirmed Jessey Neves, spokeswoman for county Board President Toni Preckwinkle.

All “three employees were notified of pre-disciplinary hearings,” Neves said.

It’s unclear what disciplinary action Neason faced, because Preckwinkle’s office would not name the employees in question or their job titles.

While Preckwinkle has blasted management for recent problems at the morgue, chief Medical Examiner Dr. Nancy Jones as well as Kimberly Jackson, whom county payroll records list as a morgue Executive Officer and whose profile shows she’s in charge of indigent burials, remain on the job, sources tell the Sun-Times.

Neves did say the move comes in the wake of an internal investigation of operations, policies and procedures within the medical examiner’s office, which Preckwinkle called for since the morgue is directly under her authority.

That probe along with an ongoing investigation by the county’s Inspector General was launched after the Sun-Times first reported in January staff complaints that the cooler was beyond the 300-body capacity.

In addition, staffers complained of the horrible stench and bodily fluids covering the floors – exposing them to blood-born pathogens; the Illinois Department of Labor is investigating the workplace complaints.