Local News

Trooper fired for obscene joke appeals dismissal

Posted July 13, 2009 1:02 p.m. EDT
Updated July 13, 2009 6:08 p.m. EDT

— A fired state Highway Patrol trooper said Monday that he didn't deserve to be fired for an obscene joke that he admits was in bad taste.

Administrative Law Judge Fred Morrison Jr. is expected to decide in the next 75 days whether Ron Ezzell, a helicopter pilot who worked for the Highway Patrol for 19 years, should get his job back.

Ezzell 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.

"I was kind of disgusted that someone would send that in," teller Brittany Dunn testified during a Monday morning hearing.

Although Dunn and another teller 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.

Highway Patrol Commander Col. Walter Wilson decided instead to fire Ezzell.

"His act that particular day was deplorable," Wilson testified. "It was unacceptable behavior that could not be tolerated. I felt the appropriate action would be dismissal from the state Highway Patrol."

Wilson said an earlier incident played into his decision. He said Ezzell had made inappropriate comments to a teenage waitress once when the two men were at lunch. He reprimanded Ezzell after that incident.

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. "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.