K9 Abuse Report
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The N.C. Highway Patrol took its police dogs out of service indefinitely Wednesday, after a hearing exposed rough obedience techniques such as shocking, suspending and kicking dogs.

Bryan Beatty, secretary of the state Department of Crime Control and Public Safety, ordered the suspension of the canine program until a review is completed showing what training techniques were used and how they compare to generally accepted practices. The patrol has 10 dogs that mostly sniff out drugs.

"We believe that we need to look at the operations, determine whether or not they are following proper procedure and whether or not we need to make any major changes to the program," said Beatty, who oversees the patrol.

The review comes after several troopers testified during a three-day hearing into the firing of patrol Sgt. Charles L. Jones for mistreating dogs.

Jones was fired in September, a month after a trooper used a cell phone to record footage of Jones suspending his dog, Ricoh, from a railing, then kicking him at least five times. Jones, who is seeking to be reinstated, testified that what he did was not abusive and that trainers had used several other rough methods.

Ricoh, a 7-year-old Belgian Malinois, was not seriously hurt. He has since been retired from the patrol.

While none of the troopers in the Jones hearing testified that they had similarly punished a dog, they recounted many other harsh measures. They said dogs had been shocked with stun guns, kicked, suspended from their leashes until they were nearly unconscious and hit with plastic bottles filled with stones. Troopers talked about twirling dogs on their leashes in a method known as helicoptering; in some cases the dogs were released while they spun in the air.

The troopers said the procedures are necessary to control powerful, aggressive dogs that can inflict serious injury. Some police dog training experts dispute the tactics, saying they are relics from a time when dogs were used more for crowd control than drug interdiction.

Beatty said he was surprised to learn such tactics were being used. A previous review reported that such tactics exist but not within the patrol, he said. The patrol banned the use of shock collars three years ago.

"We've had no complaints about the unit," Beatty said. "It has performed well and served a very valuable function in terms of narcotics detection. It's taken a lot of drugs off the highways. And, until the videotape of Jones, there was no indication that there was any problem."

Beatty said that the patrol will request dogs from other police departments if needed. He did not rule out ending the canine program, which has been in use for about 20 years.

The dog-kicking video became public Monday when it was shown during the hearing. Since then, it has been played nationally. It can be found on YouTube, and popular rapper 50 Cent linked to it from his Web site this week.

Gov. Mike Easley's office said it has received scores of calls and e-mail messages supporting Jones' firing. A forum on The News & Observer's Web site had about 200 postings that overwhelmingly supported Jones' ouster.

In his own words

On Wednesday, Jones, 39, testified in his defense. A 12-year member of the patrol, Jones said that he did not abuse Ricoh and that he would not have been fired if his actions had not been recorded on video.

He teared up twice during his testimony. The first time was when he was asked how he felt about Ricoh.

"I spent more time with Ricoh than I did my wife," he said.

The second time was when he described the process that led to his dismissal. Evidence showed that he was originally headed for no more than a three-day suspension, but when the media learned of the video's existence a second investigation kicked into high gear. Easley and his staff looked at the video and told Beatty and a patrol spokesman that Jones should be fired. He was, less than 10 days later.

The day Jones was fired, he said, he spoke with the patrol's commander, Fletcher Clay, who had removed himself from the disciplinary proceedings because Jones' wife is an assistant to Clay.

"He said, 'The politics had gotten involved in it, and I couldn't stop it,' " Jones said.

Jones said he was tough with Ricoh because the dog was aggressive and often refused to release objects, particularly toys that were given as rewards. Jones said he has scars on his back and arms from Ricoh's bites. Jones said he kicked Ricoh to get him to release a toy.

Too valuable to retire

Ricoh was valuable to the patrol, having located cash and illegal drugs totaling $10 million during a six-year period, Jones said. That's why the patrol continued to use Ricoh, Jones said, instead of retiring him.

Senior Administrative Law Judge Fred Morrison is expected to issue his findings in the coming weeks.

The case has exposed a lack of state or national standards for training police dogs. The first review noted that not much has been put in writing because police departments fear that the public would be outraged at some of the tactics.

John Midgette, director of the N.C. Police Benevolent Association, said the suspension of the canine program has struck fear in the troopers who testified on Jones' behalf. Midgette called it "clear retaliation to the troopers who testified truthfully and honestly."

Beatty said troopers will not be punished for testifying. But he said those who mistreated police dogs could face disciplinary action.

"You can't kick, you can't strike, you can't slam a dog against a wall," Beatty said. "That is inhumane and unacceptable, and anybody who thinks you need to do that to maintain control doesn't need to be handling a dog."


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NOTE:  The North Carolina Highway Patrol is NOT an ASCT certified agency.  According to ASCT Attorney, Michael West, NCSHP was an ASCT agency in 1995. But that changed the following year. "They wanted to train their own dogs. So they took handlers and made them trainers."  We see the results. 

Police agencies must remain educated in the proper methods of K9 training.  Abuse isn't necessary. 

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