Video of Alleged Animal Abuse by Trooper Played in Court
Posted April 28, 2008 12:30 p.m. EDT
Updated April 30, 2008 2:28 p.m. EDT
Raleigh, N.C. — A court hearing began Monday to decide whether a state trooper fired for alleged animal abuse will get his job back.
Former Sgt. Charles Jones, a 12-year veteran in charge of K-9 training for the Highway Patrol, was fired in September after another trooper turned over two 15-second video clips of him allegedly abusing his K-9 partner, Ricoh.
(Caution: Contents of the video may disturb some viewers.)
The Office of Administrative Hearings – a quasi-judicial agency – began proceedings Monday in a lawsuit that Jones filed against the state in December, alleging that procedures were violated when he was fired. The hearing will reconvene on Tuesday.
Monday's proceedings focused on the video clips that Trooper Ray Herndon recorded on his cell phone after he saw Jones using what he thought might be abusive techniques at a training exercise in Garner last summer.
"I was torn; I didn't know what to do. Should I go stop him?" Herndon, a 21-year-veteran of the force, testified Monday. "So I did what I thought was right at the time."
Court documents say the incident began when Ricoh refused to release a chew reward. One video shows Jones tying the dog's leash to a high railing so that only his hind legs touched the ground. He then kicked the dog's leg four times.
"Then he'd pull him back up a good distance off the ground, using the lead in an attempt to get the dog to lech the toy or let the toy go," Herndon said. He added that he did not think Jones was intentionally trying to harm or abuse Ricoh.
The second video clip shows Jones apparently leaving the dog alone, hanging upright from its leash and collar.
Jones' lawyer, Jack O'Hale, claimed that the video clips show Jones using training techniques that he had been taught by the Highway Patrol. Ricoh was a particularly aggressive dog that required extra training, the attorney said.
"Sgt. Jones acted in the manner in which he was trained, even though it was an ugly manner," O'Hale said.
The Highway Patrol's manual does not specify any dog-training methods that are banned or allowed, O'Hale said. He described commonly used methods, such as swinging a dog around by the neck or wrestling it to the ground and holding its jaws open, that could be considered abusive.
Capt. Ken Castelloe, head of the patrol's internal affairs office, testified that the first video clip was ordinary, but not the second. Castelloe said he was disturbed that Jones had left Ricoh after the dog dropped the toy.
Bryan Beatty, secretary of the state Department of Crime Control and Public Safety, testified that Jones was fired only after a careful review.
"I concluded that that was not a technique that anyone had seen," Beatty said. "It was not a technique that was acceptable within Highway Patrol policy."
O'Hale repeated charged that the Governor's Press Office pressured the Highway Patrol to fire Jones without due process. In a deposition last week, Lt. Col. Cecil Lockley said that "unlawful political intervention" forced him to fire Jones.
Beatty and the Highway Patrol made public their intentions to fire Jones a day before his pre-dismissal hearing, O'Hale said.
The assistant district attorney argued that the video itself provided enough evidence to justify Jones' firing, and the state did not act inappropriately.
In court documents, the Highway Patrol said that Beatty, not Lockley, made the final decision to fire Jones.
O'Hale argued that Jones became a victim of the Highway Patrol's efforts to clean up after a series of embarrassing misconduct allegations were laid against troopers. The incident also occurred during the height of the dog-fighting scandal surrounding Atlanta Falcons quarterback Michael Vick, the attorney said.
Gov. Mike Easley ordered the Highway Patrol to hire a consultant to review its procedures, including the hiring, training and promotion of troopers. The consultant's findings are expected in the next few weeks.
A veterinarian examined Ricoh and found that he was OK shortly after the training exercise. The Highway Patrol removed Ricoh from Jones' care, and the dog is no longer actively working on the force.