Court: Patrol can judge trooper's lie over missing hat
Posted December 18, 2015
RALEIGH, N.C. — The North Carolina Supreme Court says the Highway Patrol doesn't have to automatically fire a trooper who lies and wants a new look at the case of an officer who fibbed about what happened to his hat.
The high court ruled Friday that the state patrol's commander was wrong when he believed a truthfulness policy gave him no choice but to fire Thomas Wetherington in 2009.
Wetherington told his supervisor his flat-brimmed uniform hat blew off of his head during a traffic stop and was probably crushed. The hat was returned in good condition a few weeks later. The then-22-year-old trooper finally admitted he lied to avoid punishment after a previous reprimand.
"Application of an inflexible standard deprives management of discretion," the court ruled. "While dismissal may be a reasonable course of action for dishonest conduct, the better practice ... would be to allow for a range of disciplinary actions in response to an individual act of untruthfulness, rather than the categorical approach employed by management in this case."
The court said the patrol should now decide whether to dismiss Wetherington based on the facts and circumstances.