Fired trooper should be reinstated, judge rules
Posted June 5, 2008
Updated June 6, 2008
Raleigh, N.C. — An administrative court judge says a former Highway Patrol trooper who lost his job after being accused of abusing his K-9 should be reinstated with back pay and attorney's fees. (Agree with the judge's ruling?)
Senior Administrative Law Judge Fred G. Morrison was also critical of the state agency, saying it has no approved or disapproved training techniques for which handlers should comply.
Former Sgt. Charles Jones was fired Sept. 8 after another trooper turned over two 15-second video clips of Jones suspending his K-9 partner, Ricoh, from a railing and kicking the dog repeatedly to force it to release a chew toy.
In his decision, issued Thursday, Morrison said the Highway Patrol did not give "meaningful consideration" to Jones' responses to the charges against him. (Read Morrison's decision.)
"(The) Respondent has not met the burden of persuading me by the greater weight of the evidence presented that it had just cause, procedurally and substantively, to terminate Petitioner's employment," Morrison wrote.
Jones' case now goes before the North Carolina State Personnel Commission, which will determine whether Jones will be reinstated.
Jones sued the Highway Patrol to regain his job, claiming he was fired only because Gov. Mike Easley's office pressured the state agency to get rid of him – an allegation the Highway Patrol denies.
"We're surprised. We believe this agency did the right thing, based on the investigation, based on the video. "And we stand by that decision that we made," spokesman Lt. Everett Clendenin said Thursday.
Evidence presented at a hearing on the matter in April showed the Patrol had planned to punish Jones with a maximum three-day suspension.
Jones claimed he was unfairly singled out because the Highway Patrol was receiving unwanted attention for trooper misconduct and because of publicity surrounding pro-football player Michael Vick's arrest on dog-fighting charges.
He testified he was following the Highway Patrol's training techniques and was doing only what was necessary to train Ricoh, a particularly aggressive dog that required extra training.
Morrison observed in his decision that handlers' training stressed obedience and control and that troopers were told "to rule with an iron fist" and that "when your dog is not performing, bust his ass" and do whatever works to discipline their dogs.
"My final conclusion is that the State of North Carolina forego the future use of dogs such as Ricoh for law enforcement purposes, unless it purchases fully trained canines to be handled by fully trained troopers who are given specific written compliance techniques."
Bryan Beatty, secretary of the Department of Crime Control and Public Safety, suspended K-9 operations following testimony from Jones' hearing.
He said he was disturbed by evidence that some troopers thought kicking a dog was acceptable training and that testimony about "abusing dogs to get compliance" was inconsistent with an independent review of the K-9 program following Jones' termination in September.
"Dog experts say Trooper Jones conduct was completely unacceptable," Easley said in a statement. "If the state has to resort to that level of cruelty to train dogs demonstrated in the video by Trooper Jones, then they (Highway Patrol) will simply not be in the dog business."