N.C. troopers defend fired K9 handler
By Dan Kane
The News & Observer
Related: Trooper fired for kicking K9 wants job back
RALEIGH, N.C. — Troopers testified Tuesday that Sgt. Charles L. Jones loved his police dog, Ricoh, so much that when Jones went away one weekend he asked a fellow trooper to sing the dog a lullaby.
"He thought the world of that dog," said Trooper James M. Atkins.
Watch the "training" footage on BLUtube.com
But that's hard to reconcile with the videos shot of Jones disciplining Ricoh after he refused to give up a piece of fire hose that he took to be a toy. Jones is seen stringing Ricoh to a loading dock rail so that the dog's hind legs are just able to touch the ground, and then delivering five kicks, at times causing the dog to swing 2 feet underneath the dock. Ricoh was not seriously injured.
The videos have sparked national outrage since they became public Monday at a state hearing to determine whether Jones should get his job back. He was fired in September, about a month after he kicked Ricoh. The case has also been forwarded to the State Bureau of Investigation to determine whether he broke animal-cruelty laws.
In the second day of the hearing, troopers stood solidly behind Jones, saying that what he did was not abusive and not atypical of other rough measures to gain control of police dogs.
"I had seen it before," said Lt. Don Cole, who trained Jones. "It wasn't mind-boggling to me."
Under cross-examination, none acknowledged using the same control technique on a dog or seeing it in training.
Two troopers have testified that Jones would have remained on the force, with no more than a three-day suspension, if the existence of the dog-kicking video had not been disclosed to reporters in September. They said that then-Internal Affairs Director Ken Castelloe, a former dog trainer, told them that he and others had done worse but that Jones was in deep trouble because his actions were on video.
The disclosure of the video's existence led Gov. Mike Easley's office to inquire about the case, and once Easley and his staff saw it, they informed patrol officials they wanted Jones dismissed.
The Highway Patrol's deputy commander, Lt. Col. Cecil Lockley, testified that he did not think Jones should be fired. But Lockley said he fired Jones because of pressure from the governor's press office.
"In my opinion, the outcome would be different because Sgt. Jones acted in the manner he was trained, even though it was an ugly manner," Lockley said, reading from a statement he gave Jones' attorney, Jack O'Hale, last month.
Lockley admitted in court that no one directly told him to fire Jones.
The several troopers who took the stand Tuesday said they had seen a number of rough techniques to train dogs to obey. O'Hale showed a video of a Baltimore police canine officer demonstrating the "alpha roll," in which a dog is thrown onto its back and straddled by an officer to gain control.
The troopers said the measures are sometimes harsh because the dogs are powerful, dangerous animals that can do serious harm if they aren't controlled.
"If he's on your child, what do you want done?" said Sgt. Rodney Crater, a dog handler for the patrol.
Crater teared up as he described his anger at Jones' dismissal. He had received a written warning for failing to report the video's existence to his superiors in August.
Outside of court, two experts who teach police in dog-training techniques say kicking a partially suspended dog is not accepted practice anywhere.
"That boy was just abusing his dog," said Mike Bullock of Greenville, who trains police departments across the globe.
Crater and other troopers said at the hearing that Ricoh, a 7-year-old Belgian Malinois, was difficult to train. He did not like to release objects in his mouth, they said.
Sgt. William Allison, another dog trainer, said that Ricoh was shocked with a stun gun by Cole one time to get the dog to release an object. Ricoh was briefly unconscious but was ready to grab the object with his jaws as soon as he recovered, Allison said.
He also said Ricoh fought with Jones often, many times drawing blood.
Senior Administrative Law Judge Fred Morrison asked Allison whether he had ever kicked his police dog.
"More [times] than I can count," Allison said.
But he said he had never strung his dog up and kicked him as Jones had with Ricoh. The dog has since been retired.
The dog-kicking video has drawn plenty of public outrage against Jones, a 14-year veteran of the patrol. It was posted on YouTube on Tuesday.
Jones is expected to take the stand today as the hearing comes to a close. A finding from Morrison is likely weeks away.
Jones was fired in September after kicking his dog.
Copyright 2008 The News & Observer