N.C. trooper who kicked his dog should get job back, court says
Dog lovers everywhere were outraged when a video hit the Internet in 2007 showing Ricoh, a drug-sniffing police dog, being kicked and yanked by his trainer, North Carolina State Highway Patrol trooper Charles L. Jones.
The public uproar triggered by the video helped lead to Jones’ firing in September 2007, a month after the training incident. Now, more than four years later, a state appeals court has ruled that Jones should get his job back and receive back pay totaling more than $200,000.
A three-judge panel ruled Tuesday that Jones should be reinstated, the News and Observer of Raleigh reported. The panel upheld earlier decisions by a state Superior Court judge, an administrative law judge and a state personnel commission that supported Jones’ attempt to recover his job.
The state could ask the North Carolina Supreme Court to review the panel’s decision. Jones was ordered fired by the governor at the time, Mike Easley.
Jones has said he was acting within patrol policy when he was videotaped kicking Ricoh, a Belgian Malinois, while disciplining the dog during a training session in August 2007. The video appeared on the Internet at the same time as the dog-fighting and abuse scandal involving NFL quarterback Michael Vick.
The video shows Jones wrapping Ricoh’s leash over a railing, then yanking and raising the dog by its neck so that only its back feet touched the ground. Jones then kicked Ricoh five times, causing the dog’s legs to swing out from under it. Jones was disciplining the dog after it refused to release a piece of fire hose given as a reward for alerting officers to the presence of narcotics.
At a hearing on a lawsuit by Jones suing the state for firing him, a fellow trooper testified that the patrol’s dog handlers were taught to "use any means necessary to discipline" a dog in order to control the animal.
"If he’s not in control, let’s be honest -- the dog turns into a four-wheel-drive stabbing machine," the trooper testified.
Jones’ lawyer, Jack O’Hale, said in 2010 that Jones’ actions were consistent with accepted training methods. "We’re not dealing with household pets. These are weapons. We’ve got to train accordingly."
O’Hale told the News and Observer that the state should not challenge the appeals court’s ruling. "Everybody tells me the state is broke, and yet they keep spending taxpayers’ money to fight this," O’Hale said.
Jones, who now works as a police officer in Apex, N.C., had worked with Ricoh for six years before the training incident.
Tamara Zmuda, a lawyer representing the state during a hearing on Jones’ appeal, said Jones was fired for violating the patrol’s "unbecoming conduct" policy and bringing the K-9 unit "into disrepute."
"No reasonable person would do what he did that day," Zmuda said.
-- David Zucchino in Durham, N.C.
Photo: Former North Carolina State Highway Patrol trooper Charles L. Jones, shown in this screen grab, was videotaped kicking and yanking his dog. Warning: The video, available on YouTube, contains graphic content. Credit: YouTube