Local News

Former K-9 trooper, Highway Patrol face off over firing

Posted August 21, 2008 6:32 a.m. EDT
Updated August 21, 2008 4:17 p.m. EDT

— A state trooper who was fired for abusing his K-9 partner faced off against his former employer Thursday as both sides argued whether the trooper’s dismissal was appropriate.

The State Personnel Commission listened to both sides. It will decide later whether Charles Jones should be reinstated, and that decision is expected to be appealed to Superior Court.

Jones was fired last September after another trooper turned over two 15-second video clips of Jones suspending his dog, Ricoh, from a railing and kicking the dog repeatedly to force it to release a chew toy.

Jones was a “fine trooper,” according to his lawyer, Jack O'Hale, and had to be forceful with Ricoh, which some in the Highway Patrol described as a “maniac on a leash” and a “crackhead.”

“Ricoh is a weapon. He was trained to bite. He has 1,400 pounds-per-square inch bite force,” O'Hale told the commission. “When you’re dealing with deadly weapons, you have to have vigorous training.

"The bottom line was they were taught to do what was necessary to control their dog," he said.

"There are a lot of things that law enforcement officers do that don't look good, that look dangerous, that are dangerous," said John Midgette, executive director of the North Carolina Police Benevolent Association. "But that's why not everybody's a police officer. As long as they're within training and law, that's what we have to go by."

The Highway Patrol said Jones crossed the line from training to abuse and fired him.

“(Jones’) actions speak for themselves. The video is clear,” said Assistant Attorney General Ashby Ray, who represented the patrol. “He kicked Ricoh not once, not twice, but five times.

"(This) was not what he was trained to do, not consistent with his training, not acceptable personal conduct."

Although the highway patrol's training manual doesn't list unacceptable training techniques for K-9s, Ray said common sense should tell people that kicking a dog would fall into such a list.

"The patrol doesn't have a policy that says we can't wrap a dog in a blanket and throw it into a river, but no one here would think that was acceptable just because we don't have a policy that says you can't do it," he said.

The state has suspended the patrol's K-9 program in April until its training manual could be reviewed and revised.

In June, a state administrative law judge ruled there was no just cause to fire Jones and recommended that he get his job back.

Judge Fred Morrison said public outcry from the cell phone video resulted in political pressure from Gov. Mike Easley’s office to fire Jones instead of suspending him. That, the judge said, violated the patrol's personnel policies.

The firing came amid a series of missteps by state troopers that included drunken driving, on-the-job sex and profiling women for traffic stops.

"We all deal with politics, but in this case, because of politics, there was a rush to judgment," O'Hale told the commission Thursday.

The patrol denied that politics played a role.

“The governor never ordered (Crime Control and Public Safety Secretary Bryan Beatty) to fire anybody. He made his own decision to do that,” Ray said.

Jones now works for the Apex Police Department.