Canine Officer Who Kicked Dog Wins Job Back

Charles Jones went to work for the North Carolina State Highway Patrol in 1994. In May 2001, Jones was selected for the Patrol’s Canine Handler School, and assigned Ricoh, a Belgian Malinois, as his canine partner.

Jones and Ricoh took part in a canine maintenance narcotics training session. When Ricoh refused to release a piece of fire hose he had been given as a reward for alerting to the presence of drugs, Jones proceeded to discipline him. After commanding Ricoh to release the reward and Ricoh’s failure to do so, Jones directed Ricoh to the ground and strung his lead over the railing of a loading dock. Jones then raised Ricoh so that only his hind legs were touching the ground and tied off the lead. Jones jumped off the loading dock and kicked Ricoh five times.

The kicks caused Ricoh’s legs to swing out from underneath him. When Ricoh finally released the reward Jones picked it up and returned it to his patrol vehicle, which was parked in front of the loading dock. Jones then untied Ricoh and let him down. A fellow member of the Patrol made two video recordings of the incident from approximately 15 to 20 feet away.

Word of the incident was leaked to the media, and officials within the Patrol and in former North Carolina Governor Michael F. Easley’s office investigated the incident. Governor Easley decided that Jones should be terminated from the Patrol.

On June 5, 2008, an administrative law judge filed a recommended decision that Jones had been terminated without just cause and recommending that he be reinstated with back pay, benefits, and attorney’s fees. When a trial court upheld the reinstatement recommendation, the Patrol appealed.

The North Carolina Court of Appeals upheld Jones’ reinstatement. The Court found that the reinstatement order was supported by substantial evidence. In particular, the Court pointed to the testimony of fellow Trooper James R. Pickard, III:

“Q. Now in your training as a canine handler with the North Carolina Highway Patrol, would you just tell us some of the things that you have personally been trained to do and what you’ve seen with respect to dog handling with, for instance, concerning compliance techniques? What are some of the things you’ve been taught to do?

“A. It all depends on what the dog is doing. If the dog, of course, is acting in an undesirable manner, you would use the choke collar primarily for compliance. But let’s say there is something more extreme, like Jones was having to deal with with his dog, as far as handler aggression, which would usually happen whenever he tried to retrieve the toy from the dog. Numerous times, he’d get bitten by the dog, and it usually would end up being a fight between him and the dog. Nine times out of ten, Jones came out on the short end of the stick, to be very honest with you.

“Whenever displayed handler aggression by the dog, you use any means necessary to discipline that dog, whatever you can get a hold of, whatever you can do, whatever it takes to reinforce this canine, you don’t do this. You cannot do this. The handler has to be in control. If he’s not in control, let’s be honest. The dog turns into a four-wheel-drive stabbing machine because he can do whatever he wants and he has no control over him.

“You have to have total control of the dog at all times. If that means kicking him, hitting him, choking him, whatever it takes to make sure he understands, ‘This is not acceptable. You cannot do this.’ It becomes an extreme liability on the side of the road if you can’t control that dog.”

The Patrol also argued that it had just cause to dismiss Jones from his employment. The Court disagreed, finding that “the unchallenged findings of fact support the trial court’s conclusion of law that the Patrol lacked just cause to terminate Jones. The fact that Jones acted consistently with his training demonstrates that he did not engage in ‘unacceptable personal conduct.’ His conduct was not conduct for which no reasonable person should expect to receive prior warning, the willful violation of known or written work rules, or conduct unbecoming a state employee that was detrimental to state service. The Patrol failed to meet its burden of showing that Jones was terminated for just cause.”

Beatty v. Jones, 2012 WL 381243 (N.C. App. 2012).