Highway Patrol appeals decision to reinstate ex-K-9 trooper
Posted January 6, 2010 6:00 a.m. EST
Updated January 6, 2010 4:30 p.m. EST
RALEIGH, N.C. — North Carolina Highway Patrol leaders headed to Wake County Superior Court Wednesday to appeal a decision that they must rehire a former trooper who was accused of mistreating his K-9 partner.
The state agency fired Charles Jones in September 2007 after another trooper turned over two 15-second video clips of Jones suspending his dog, Ricoh, a Belgian Mallinois, from a railing and kicking him repeatedly to force him to release a chew toy.
Jones maintained the treatment was a training technique, but patrol leaders said Jones, who coordinated training for the force's K-9 unit, crossed the line from training to abuse and acted in a way inconsistent with his own training.
In October 2008, the State Personnel Commission ordered the Highway Patrol to reinstate Jones, finding that it did not have "just cause to dismiss for unacceptable personal conduct.” It did find, however, "sufficient cause for discipline for unsatisfactory job performance.”
The patrol is asking Judge Jim Hardin to put aside the commission's decision.
Tamara Zmuda, an attorney for the state, said Wednesday that Jones was terminated for violating the patrol's "unbecoming conduct" policies, which brought the patrol into disregard.
"Charles Jones' actions not only brought himself into disrepute, it brought the entire K-9 unit into disrepute," Zmuda said. "No reasonable person would do what he did that day."
Several dog handlers had previously testified they were never trained in the manner that Jones said he used to train Ricoh and that they would not have handled dogs that way.
"There is nothing to support that this was accepted behavior," Zmuda said.
Jack O'Hale, Jones' attorney, argued that 14 handlers said there was nothing objectionable in the video and that Jones kicked the dog the same way someone would "kick a child in the butt."
"Ricoh's tail is wagging. He's following Mr. Jones' head," O'Hale said of the video. "Ricoh wasn't injured."
Jones, now an Apex police officer, testified in April 2008 that Ricoh refused to release the toy, so he tied his leash to the top rail of a deck, hung the dog with its back paws on the ground, and began kicking.
Jones said it was what he was trained to do. Highway Patrol manuals didn't specify how to train a dog, and patrol officials said Jones' kicks were unacceptable.
"We're not dealing with household pets," O'Hale argued. "These are weapons. We've got to train accordingly."
Ricoh, now retired, was the "toughest nut on the Highway Patrol K-9 unit" and was called a "maniac on a leash," O'Hale said.
"You must rule with an iron fist," he added, cited the patrol's training manual.
Patrol leaders said they initially planned to discipline Jones but decided to fire him when then-Gov. Mike Easley's office intervened.
O'Hale said Wednesday that pressure was put on the Highway Patrol to be "politically correct." At the time, several other troopers had been in the local news for allegations of misconduct or inappropriate behavior, and the dog-fighting case involving NFL athlete Michael Vick was making national news.
"This case was the perfect storm for the Highway Patrol and Charles Jones," O'Hale said.
The allegations against Jones led the Highway Patrol to disband its K-9 program in December 2008. In June, the patrol implemented a new program with new dogs and handlers.
Less-aggressive Labrador retrievers are now used instead of shepherd breeds, because they are better at detecting drugs, which is the dogs' primary duty. The shepherd breeds used to be used for pursuits and protection but are no longer needed.