By Dan Kane
The News & Observer
RALEIGH, N.C. — A former state Highway Patrol canine handler fired for abusing a police dog is suing to get his job back. He contends that patrol officials rushed to get rid of him out of fear the public would not understand that what he did to train the dog did not amount to mistreatment.
Sgt. Charles L. Jones was fired three months ago after he kicked a police dog four times while it was nearly suspended off the ground, causing the dog to swing in the air for a second each time, according to patrol documents filed Wednesday with Jones' complaint. Jones cited internal patrol communications that suggest other police dog control tactics are just as rough but are standard practice.
Among them: swinging a dog around in the air on its leash, a practice known as "helicoptering."
Another trooper used his cell phone to record a video of part of Jones' treatment of his assigned dog, Ricoh. The thought of that video becoming public panicked patrol officials into firing him, said Jones' attorney, Jack O'Hale of Smithfield. O'Hale said Gov. Mike Easley's staff also pushed to fire Jones.
"It's a rush to judgment," O'Hale said. "They wanted him gone because of what was going on with Michael Vick."
Vick, a former quarterback for the Atlanta Falcons, was sentenced this week to 23 months in prison for his involvement in an illegal dogfighting ring.
Lt. Everett Clendenin, spokesman for the Highway Patrol, said patrol officials would not comment on Jones' complaint because it is the subject of a legal proceeding. Jones' complaint was filed with the state Office of Administrative Hearings, which hears disputes involving state employees.
Officials with the governor's office could not be reached for comment Wednesday night.
Jones' complaint also makes the same argument other fired troopers have leveled against the patrol in recent years, that he was a victim of disparate disciplinary treatment. Jones cites other recent misconduct cases in which troopers were allowed to remain on the force despite what he called more egregious behavior.
Jones says that a patrol captain was briefly demoted after making a racial comment during "a photo shoot" and that another trooper received a three-day suspension after falsifying a log that attests to the accuracy of alcohol sensors used in drunken-driving arrests.
Jones' troubles began Aug. 8 at the patrol's training center in Raleigh. The trooper who recorded Jones' treatment of Ricoh showed it to two sergeants, who took no action. Twenty days later, the video ended up before the patrol's internal affairs unit.
According to the complaint, Capt. Ken Castelloe, then head of internal affairs, determined that Jones had committed a less serious policy violation that would lead to, at most, a three-day suspension. But a day later, patrol officials changed course and put Jones on investigative leave, according to the complaint.
That same day, Ricoh was examined by a veterinarian, who found that the 7-year-old Malinois had "no signs or symptoms of physical injury or trauma," according to a copy of the report filed with the complaint.
Jones said the governor's office became involved in the ensuing days, meeting with patrol officials and reviewing the video. On Sept. 5, Jones was told he would face a hearing two days later in which he would have to make a case against being fired. He says he was denied a postponement.
Before the hearing took place, Clendenin told reporters that the patrol had started proceedings to dismiss Jones.
On Sept. 10, the patrol's commander, Fletcher Clay, called for a review of the canine program. According to Jones' complaint, Maj. Randy Glover reported to Clay that there are dog "compliance techniques" that may be viewed as "excessive by those not familiar or associated with K9 Training procedures."
Glover also said he talked to leaders of other law enforcement agencies and a representative of the American K9 Association. None have their compliance techniques in writing, he said.
"They all agreed that inclusion of such a plan would reflect negatively upon any training program because individuals outside the K9 Training world would not or could not understand the importance of these compliance techniques," Glover wrote.
Jones presented the list of training techniques in his appeal to an employee advisory committee. He said in his complaint that the committee unanimously recommended to Bryan Beatty, the head of the state agency that oversees the patrol, that Jones be reinstated. On Nov. 14, Beatty rejected the committee's recommendation and fired Jones.
The patrol has denied requests to release documents that were filed as part of Jones' complaint. The patrol also has declined to release the video showing Jones' handling of his dog.
The patrol's canine handlers are certified by the North American Police Work Dogs Association. Jim Watson, the association's secretary, said in an interview that rough tactics such as "helicoptering" dogs have not been standard practice for more than 20 years.
He said the tactics taught by his association call for little more than jerking dogs by the leash to get their attention. In cases in which a dog turns aggressive, it is accepted practice to use the leash to lift the dog off its front legs, which limits its mobility.
Watson said he was recently called in by the patrol to review its canine handling procedures. He said he found none of the harsher tactics of the past.
"It's not like you guys have a state police agency with dogs that are out of control and running around and are vicious," he said. "The training methods they are using are good."
Jones said other tactics are rough.
Copyright 2007 The News & Observer
Former N.C. trooper who kicked K-9 sues to get job back