Panel: Dog-kicking trooper should get job back

The Highway Patrol was ordered to reinstate Sgt. Charles L. Jones, fired for punishing his police dog

Staff WritersOctober 18, 2008 

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CORRECTION

A front-page story Saturday on the State Personnel Commission's decision that Sgt. Charles L. Jones should be reinstated incorrectly said that the commission had disagreed with an administrative law judge on the subject of pressure from Gov. Mike Easley's office to fire the trooper. The commission and judge both found there was undue pressure that caused patrol officials to fire Jones.

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RALEIGH -- A former state Highway Patrol sergeant fired for kicking his police dog during training should get his job back, the State Personnel Commission has ruled in a decision obtained Friday.

The patrol failed to prove that Sgt. Charles L. Jones' actions amounted to personal misconduct, the commission said. Jones deserves back pay, it said.

The commission also ruled that the patrol lacked clear discipline standards for police dogs and found Jones' actions were consistent with patrol practices.

"Though disturbing, the treatment of [Jones'] animal does not rise to the level of 'abuse,' " the ruling reads, noting that even if it did, Wake County's animal ordinance specifically exempts police dogs.

The commission did rule that the Department of Crime Control and Public Safety had just cause to discipline Jones "for unacceptable job performance."

Secretary Bryan Beatty had not seen the panel's decision, said Capt. Everett Clendenin. Beatty "still believes that the Highway Patrol made the right decision in dismissing Jones, and that we will appeal the decision to [Wake County] Superior Court," Clendenin said.

Jones, a 13-year veteran, was dismissed in September 2007 after a video surfaced of him kicking Ricoh, a 7-year-old Belgian Malinois.

In August 2007, Jones, Ricoh and several other troopers and dogs were training for drug searches, the finding says. Ricoh refused to give up a piece of fire hose, a toy he was given as a reward. After trying to get him to give up the toy, Jones took him outside, tied his leash to the top rail of a deck and hung the dog with his back paws on the ground. He then commanded Ricoh to "release" five times, giving the dog a kick to the flank with the instep of his right foot after each command. Another trooper recorded the kicks on a mobile phone, and the video became public.

The patrol initially planned to discipline Jones with a lesser penalty but fired him after the governor's office got involved. Seth Effron, a spokesman for Gov. Mike Easley, referred questions Friday to Crime Control and Public Safety.

Jones fought the dismissal at an administrative hearing in April, saying he was following methods other troopers used. More than a dozen troopers testified and spoke of obedience techniques such as swinging or hanging dogs by their leads, shocking them with stun guns and throwing rock-filled bottles at them. Patrol policies provided little guidance in training techniques.

But the Highway Patrol has said Jones' kicks were unacceptable.

"There's also the rule of common sense," Clendenin said.

Senior Administrative Law Judge Fred G. Morrison sided with Jones in the April hearing, saying the governor's office had placed undue pressure on the patrol to fire Jones. The commission did not agree with that finding this week. Of the seven members who deliberated, six approved the decision, with one opposed. One member abstained.

Jones is now an officer with the Apex Police Department. Efforts to reach him there and through his attorney late Friday failed.

Canine unit suspended

The testimony about training techniques caused patrol officials to suspend the canine unit. They have said they might try to revive a modified version of the unit that uses dogs only to sniff drugs.

The News & Observer on Sunday reported that more than 240 training reports submitted by Jones in the 18 months leading up to the kicking incident showed no indication that Ricoh was a problem. Those reports did not become part of the hearing because the patrol had not turned them over to Jones' attorney or the Attorney General's Office, which defended the patrol.

Under state law, the commission could not consider that information because it was not part of the official record of the case. Ricoh was not injured from the five kicks Jones gave him, a veterinary examination showed. The dog has been retired from the patrol and went to live with a different trooper.

dan.kane@newsobserver.com or 919-829-4861

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