Local News

State suspends Highway Patrol K-9 operations

Posted April 30, 2008 11:56 a.m. EDT
Updated April 30, 2008 8:04 p.m. EDT

— State officials suspended all K-9 operations in the Highway Patrol Wednesday afternoon, following testimony in an administrative hearing regarding controversial training techniques.

Bryan Beatty, secretary of the state Department of Crime Control and Public Safety, suspended the operations as of 2 p.m. Wednesday, saying he was disturbed by evidence that some troopers thought kicking a dog was acceptable training.

"I don't know if any of them have done anything inappropriate," Beatty said. "We're going to make sure they haven't and make it clear that, if we're going to have a program, we're going to run it properly.

"I'm not accusing anyone. I'm simply saying, based on the information that we received in testimony (Tuesday), it at least raises serious questions about what's going on."

Beatty said testimony about "abusing dogs to get compliance" was inconsistent with an independent review of the K-9 program done last September.

Maj. Jamie Hatcher of the patrol's Special Operations Division would handle the review, Beatty said, noting that the 10 troopers who work with dogs will remain on duty, but the dogs themselves won't be on active duty until further notice. He said all options, including doing away with the program, would be considered after the review.

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 Jones suspending his K-9 partner, Ricoh, from a railing and kicking the dog repeatedly to force it to release a chew toy.

(Caution: Contents of the video may disturb some viewers.)

Jones has sued to regain his job, saying he was fired only because staff in Gov. Mike Easley's office pressured the Highway Patrol to get rid of him.

Evidence presented at the hearing showed the patrol had planned to punish Jones with a maximum three-day suspension. One of Jones' superiors testified Tuesday that he was told to fire Jones by "an outside entity."

Beatty had said previously that Jones' firing came after a careful review of the case, but attorneys for the state conceded Wednesday that Easley intervened in the case.

"On or about Aug. 31, 2007, Governor Easley decided that Charles Jones ... should be dismissed from the North Carolina State Highway Patrol," read a that Assistant Attorney General Ashby Ray gave Senior Administrative Law Judge Fred Morrison.

Easley told members of his communications staff about his opinion, and they relayed that information to Beatty and Lt. Everett Clendenin, the spokesman for the Highway Patrol, the stipulation said.

Jones was fired on Sept. 8.

"It appeared to me that they were pushing a man out the door," said Capt. Stephen Briggs, of the Highway Patrol. "I've never seen an investigation turned this quickly."

Several other troopers had been accused of various offenses at the time, prompting Easley to order an outside review of the agency.

The consultant's report from that probe was issued Wednesday morning. It calls for more front-line supervision of troopers.

Jones took the stand in his defense Wednesday morning to explain what is depicted in the videos.

"I spent more time with Ricoh than I did with my own wife," he said, choking back tears.

He said he kicked the dog with the side of his foot, and the dog was never struggling or gasping. Getting K-9s to obey is critical, or they become a liability to the public, he said.

"That's what I needed to do at that moment of that day to get Ricoh to release," he said. "If it's wrong, then you need to tell the Highway Patrol it's wrong because the Highway Patrol is the ones saying we can do this stuff."

The Highway Patrol's doesn't ban or condone specific training methods.

Beatty said Jones' treatment of the dog was excessive and unacceptable. Some troopers said Tuesday that such treatment is widely used to train aggressive dogs, while others said they had never seen such training techniques.

"No one said they'd ever done that. No one said they'd ever seen that. No one said they'd ever been trained to do that," Ray said.

"I don't think there's any doubt that kind of behavior can't be tolerated," Beatty said Wednesday after the conclusion of the three-day hearing.

A veterinarian examined Ricoh shortly after the training exercise and found the dog wasn't injured. The Highway Patrol removed Ricoh from Jones' care, and the dog has been retired from active duty.

Morrison's ruling in the case is expected within 45 days.

Wake County District Attorney Colon Willoughby said he has a report from the State Bureau of Investigation into Jones' actions, but he doesn't plan to decide whether there will be criminal charges until the administrative hearing is resolved.