Trooper fired for kicking K9 wants job back
By Dan Kane
The News & Observer
RALEIGH, N.C. — Dog handlers for the North Carolina State Highway Patrol have stunned dogs with tasers, swung them by their leashes until they became airborne and hit them with plastic bottles full of pebbles.
None of that was an issue until a trooper used his cell phone to record a video of a sergeant kicking his police dog repeatedly while it was leashed to a loading dock, its hind legs just touching the ground. The video was made public for the first time Monday, and it shows Sgt. Charles L. Jones kicking Ricoh, a 7-year-old Belgian Malinois, five times, causing the dog to swing as much as two feet under the loading dock.
Jones, a 14-year patrol member, was fired last September after the incident became public. Now he is trying to win back his job at a hearing before a state administrative judge.
Police dogs can be lethal weapons, and Jones contends that training them to obey commands can be a rough business. He argues that once his tactics were recorded on video, there was no way public officials from the governor on down would acknowledge that they were accepted practice.
"You cannot cite any training, any policy, any protocol that Sgt. Jones has violated — because there isn't any," said Jones' attorney, Jack O'Hale, as he questioned the man who upheld Jones' dismissal, North Carolina Crime Control and Public Safety Secretary Bryan Beatty.
Beatty said Jones had acted inhumanely to the dog by kicking him and leaving him suspended from the dock rail, even after the dog had complied with Jones' order. There may not be a policy specifically addressing Jones' behavior, but Beatty said it was clearly abuse to him.
"I think if you saw it, you would recognize it," Beatty testified.
The state presented its case against Jones on Monday, recounting the events leading up to his dismissal. The incident on Aug. 8 at the patrol's training facility in Raleigh began with Ricoh's unwillingness to let go of a piece of fire hose, which to him was a toy.
Trooper Raymond Herndon testified that Jones had first swung Ricoh off the ground by his leash. It's a tactic known by police dog trainers as "helicoptering." Ricoh still would not release the toy.
That's when Jones took the dog to the loading dock and tied the leash to the rail. Herndon said he began recording Jones with the cell phone because he was concerned about what Jones was doing to the dog. The cell phone could only record 15 seconds at a time, so Herndon made two recordings.
The first video shows Jones, in a white T-shirt and black pants, tying the leash to the rail. Ricoh is up on his hind legs, his back to the camera. Jones then jumps off the dock and kicks the dog at least five times. Jones can be heard yelling "los, los, los," a command for the dog to release the toy.
The second video shows the dog still tied to the rail, as Jones walks around him, picks up the toy and then walks out of the camera frame.
Herndon testified that Jones went to his patrol car to put the toy inside. Jones then released the dog.
Herndon said that he did not think that Jones intended to hurt Ricoh, who was not seriously injured. An examination three weeks later showed no injuries.
"I questioned the method, not his intent — ever," Herndon testified.
Herndon also said that Jones had provided some of the best training that Herndon had received.
O'Hale asked Herndon to notice Ricoh more closely in the second video. Ricoh appeared to be wagging his tail and his head followed Jones.
"I think he wanted to go with [Jones]," Herndon testified.
Herndon showed the video to other troopers, and eventually Capt. Ken Castelloe, then the internal affairs director, learned of the incident. He initially recommended no more than a three-day suspension without pay.
But then the case became public. Beatty testified that he learned about the incident after the patrol's public information officer, Lt. Everett Clendenin, told him he had fielded media inquiries. The governor's office quickly asked to see the video. They were "shocked," Castelloe said.
Beatty testified that Gov. Mike Easley's staff made him aware that Easley wanted Jones dismissed for abusing the dog. Beatty also requested a criminal investigation into possible animal abuse after conferring with one of Easley's legal staff, Reuben Young. That investigation is ongoing.
Castelloe took a second look at the incident. This time, he said he reviewed both videos. He said the second video was more troubling because it showed Jones leaving the dog tied up after he had obeyed the order and dropped the toy. Castelloe then recommended that Jones be fired.
Lt. Col. C.E. Lockley accepted Castelloe's recommendation, and fired Jones. But in a sworn deposition released earlier this month, Lockley said he did so only because of pressure from the governor's office.
At the time, former Atlanta Falcons quarterback Michael Vick admitted to being involved in an illegal dog fighting ring, and the patrol was reeling from two high-profile cases of trooper misconduct.
Castelloe and Beatty testified Monday that they felt no pressure from Easley or his top aides. But they struggled to explain how Jones had crossed the line.
One by one, O'Hale asked Beatty about several other measures trainers had used on police dogs. Beatty declined to say whether they were acceptable practices. All, he said, are under review.
Copyright 2008 The News & Observer