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Judge upholds trooper's firing over obscene joke

Posted August 6, 2009

— A judge has upheld the state Highway Patrol's decision to fire a trooper for an obscene joke that the trooper admitted was in bad taste. However, the judge said he might have imposed a "lesser sanction" on the veteran trooper.

Administrative Law Judge Fred Morrison Jr. said the state's decision to fire Ronald Gene Ezzell Jr. "should be left undisturbed."

"While I may have decided to impose a lesser sanction based upon the maxim, 'Justice tempered with mercy,' for a veteran trooper, I am not convinced that these officials acted erroneously," Morrison wrote in his decision.

The case now moves before the North Carolina Personnel Commission, which will make the final decision.

Ezzell, a helicopter pilot who worked for the Highway Patrol for 19 years, was in a marked cruiser in the drive-through lane at a State Employees Credit Union branch in Kinston last October when he passed an image to a teller.

The doctored photo showed a boy with enlarged genitals.

Although two bank tellers decided not to file a complaint with the Highway Patrol, word about the incident spread to Ezzell's supervisors. After an internal investigation, they recommended that he be suspended and demoted.

Col. Walter Wilson, who recently retired as Highway Patrol commander, decided instead to fire Ezzell, saying he had reprimanded Ezzell earlier after the trooper made inappropriate comments to a teenage waitress when the two men were at lunch.

Reuben Young, secretary of the state Department of Crime Control and Public Safety, said he supported Wilson's decision to fire Ezzell.

Ezzell and his attorney, Woody Webb, maintained that suspension and demotion was the appropriate punishment in the case, which they said was simply a bad joke that went too far.

"My decision that day was poor judgment," Ezzell testified during a July hearing. "It was only meant as a joke. I didn't mean any forethought or malice to offend anybody. Had I known I'd offended anybody, I would have apologized."

"Not every transgression should rise to the level of a dismissal," Webb said.

The case is the latest in a series of trooper's appealing firings or demotions. Several troopers have been dismissed in the past couple of years amid allegations of profiling women for traffic stops, having sex on duty, drunken driving or animal abuse.


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  • Diabolical Aug 7, 2009

    That's just sick. Officer knew full well what he was doing and his intent on doing it. Come on to bank tellers???? Was that his way of trying to pick up a woman?? I don't see the joke in it. Like he apparently does.

  • seamist Aug 7, 2009

    What is all this talk about CHILD PORNOGRAPHY??? I have seen this same exact photo...multiple times! There nothing PORNOGRAPHY about it. Im sure all of you on here have sent "dirty" texts/emails before, so you have done the same thing and the bad thing is more then likly you got a VERY good laugh out of it! So stop saying its CHILD PORNOGRAPHY when it isn't!!

  • ma2345 Aug 6, 2009

    anitov - I am sorry but I feel different about the pic...Nothing is funny about a child that has been sexually modified for your entertainment. Either way, these days joking is still sexual harrasment. The girls in my company are off limits to all dirty jokes and pics. You could probably steal from me and I would give you a second chance, you can cuss me and I would give you a warning, you could be insubordinate and I will find out why, but no second chance with sexual harrasment or assault. Your out my door and I dont know any other business owners that are different. This is coming from 30 years of running a business and my fair share of lawsuits.

  • Journey985 Aug 6, 2009

    It's all good anitov, No hard feelings :) If you notice I put in () the word procedure. It should have been (policy) he acted "above" department policy by showing this to the teller. And in his words "I did not think this was harmful or I would have apologized" He THOUGHT...just not very well.

  • working for deadbeats Aug 6, 2009

    That was a dumb thing to do. I fail to see the joke. LE departments have to overreact, because the public will scream if they don't. It doesn't matter how unjust it may be for the officer.

  • bnorris6 Aug 6, 2009

    The officer acted totally inappropriately as well if any other person passed along a sexually doctored picture or if one had made a dirty joke. There is a time and place for everything, and the officer apparently does not have good sense to know when. Apparently he can't keep his hormones in check. I agree with him being fired.

  • thepeopleschamp Aug 6, 2009

    journey, if it makes you feel better, I agreed with you all day yesterday on the terroism suspect story :) Today we differ, the beauty of golo. Back to today, I still don't see where he ACTED above the law because he did not break the law. Poor judgement, yes, but no laws broken. Maybe we can agree on something tomorrow. Peace.

  • Journey985 Aug 6, 2009

    Ok anitov, you're right...they ACT like they are above the law, Happy now? This officer acted in a manner that was above the law (procedure) of his office, and now he has paid the price. Are we also forgetting, he did this in uniform on duty in a marked crusier...that is ACTING above the law.

  • thepeopleschamp Aug 6, 2009

    ma, I have not seen this picture and am going by what wral.com has printed. The article says it is a "doctored photo", not pornography. A judge has seen the photo and there is no prosecution coming from this. I am not defending what the trooper did, but I do not think he should be prosecuted for something that is not illegal.

  • Lyle Aug 6, 2009

    It doesn't have to be a law that he broke. Just a policy will do it.