Trooper fired over kicking dog wins appeal

Kicked police dog in 2007

ablythe@newsobserver.comFebruary 8, 2012 

— A widely distributed video of a state Highway Patrol trooper kicking his narcotics-sniffing dog brought an outpouring of sympathy for the Belgian Malinois that stumbled to the ground in the 2007 incident.

On Tuesday, the state Court of Appeals offered support for Charles Jones, the trooper fired amid the emotional fallout from the images.

In an opinion affirming findings by a Superior Court judge, a state personnel commission and an administrative law judge, a three-judge appeals court panel ruled that Jones should get his job back with the state Highway Patrol and receive back pay for four years and five months, an amount of more than $200,000.

Jones, currently an officer with the Apex police department, could not be reached for comment.

The state could seek a review of the ruling from the state Supreme Court.

Jack O'Hale, the Smithfield attorney representing Jones, said Tuesday that he hoped the state's fight against his client would stop.

"Everybody tells me the state is broke, and yet they keep spending taxpayers' money to fight this," O'Hale said.

Jones, fired when Mike Easley was governor, has maintained that he was acting within patrol policy when he was videotaped kicking the dog, Ricoh.

Jones, who went to work for the state Highway Patrol in 1994, was at a training session on Aug. 8, 2007, with Ricoh, his canine partner since May 2001. Jones was videotaped 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.

Jones directed the dog to the ground and strung its lead over the railing of a loading dock. The trooper then raised the dog so only its hind legs touched the ground. Jones jumped off the loading dock and kicked Ricoh five times, causing the dog's legs to swing out from underneath it.

A public furor ensued when the video was posted on the Internet.

The incident happened around the same time that NFL quarterback Michael Vick was in trouble for his role in a dog-fighting ring and other state troopers were battling misconduct charges.

Easley, according to court documents, decided Jones should be dismissed from the patrol. He was fired Sept. 9, 2007.

Jones appealed the decision. In 2007, an employee advisory commission recommended reinstatement. An administrative law judge came to the same conclusion in June 2008. The state Personnel Commission followed suit in October 2008, and in January 2010, a state Superior Court judge entered the same finding.

The three-judge Court of Appeals panel noted in its ruling released Tuesday that pressure from the governor's office played a role in the firing. Jones' former supervisor, Lt. Col. Cecil Lockley, said "they want him gone," referring to the governor's office.

Trooper James R. Pickard III testified that dog handlers in the patrol were taught to "use any means necessary to discipline" a dog to stay in control.

"If he's not in control, let's be honest," Pickard testified. "The dog turns into a four-wheel-drive stabbing machine."

The ruling brought a response from the Southern States Police Benevolent Association and its state division, the N.C. Police Benevolent Association.

"The state has wasted an enormous amount of time and taxpayers' money in fighting a case based on perceptions and personal feelings rather than facts and realities rooted in the rule of law," John Midgette, executive director of the N.C. Police Benevolent Association, said in a prepared response.

"Our members had never before imagined that our state leaders, including our former governor, would so blatantly disregard their fiduciary and lawful duties in judging the actions of our law enforcement officers."

Blythe: 919-836-4948

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