Popular culture is replete with positive images of policemen and their dogs. Such films as Turner and Hooch, K-9, K-911 and K9 PI, and the TV series “Unleashed K-9 Broward County” portray police dogs and their handlers as true-blue buddies. But in reality, an increasing number of four-legged cops are abused by the human partners who are supposed to have their backs.
In August 2007, a Chandler, Ariz. police officer was charged with a misdemeanor for leaving his canine partner locked in the car with no air during a 109-degree heat wave. The dog, named “Bandit,” died as a result of the incident.
In January 2009, a Rochester, Mass. K-9 officer was charged with animal cruelty after his dog Nitro was found dead of starvation while the officer was away on vacation. Nitro was a Belgian Malinois whose normal weight was 65 pounds. When authorities discovered Nitro’s corpse, the dog weighed 25 pounds.
And not long ago, there were two separate cases of abuse by K-9 officers in Miami, not far from where “Unleashed” is taped. Now, thanks to a couple of misguided judges, we can add North Carolina to the growing list of states where K-9 police abuse their dogs and get away with it.
The case involves an incident from Aug. 8, 2007 in which highway patrol Sgt. Charles Jones was videotaped hanging his dog Ricoh from a high railing and kicking the canine repeatedly in order to teach him to release a chew toy. Later, it was discovered that this was not the first time Jones had abused his dog. Previous encounters had even included shooting Ricoh with a Taser. The cell-phone footage from Aug. 8 was taken by a fellow officer and then turned over to Commander Fletcher Clay, who took no action and refused to discipline Sgt. Jones. That was understandable because, at the time, Jones’ wife was Commander Clay’s administrative assistant, and, in fact, the Joneses were living in Clay’s house.
The judge was wrong, and there was plenty of evidence to show that Jones’ training methods were criminal. Tracy Bowling, a veteran K-9 trainer, had told WRAL that positive reinforcement was the best way to train police dogs, and that force should only be used when a dog threatens its handler.
Fortunately, the matter came to the attention of the Wake County DA; an investigation ensued and Jones was eventually terminated.
The following year Jones sued the state, saying he had been wrongfully terminated. Sgt. Stupid told the court that the highway patrol had “no clear training procedures,” and that all K-9 handlers employed the same techniques as he had with Ricoh. Judge James Hardin bought into Jones’ line of crap and sided with the abuser, saying Jones’ actions were “no worse than the highway patrol’s accepted method of training dogs for police service.”
Hardin ordered that Jones be reinstated with back pay. The judge was wrong, and there was plenty of evidence to show that Jones’s training methods were criminal. Tracy Bowling, a veteran K-9 trainer, had told WRAL that positive reinforcement was the best way to train police dogs, and that force should only be used when a dog threatens its handler. Additionally, North Carolina’s secretary of crime control and public safety, Bryan Beatty, had gone on record, saying, “You can’t kick, strike, or slam a dog against a wall. This is inhumane and unacceptable, and anybody who thinks you need to do that to maintain control doesn’t need to be handling a dog.”
Beatty temporarily suspended the highway patrol’s K-9 program, but by 2009 it had been reinstated with all new dogs and new handlers. Speaking of being reinstated, not only did Jones get his job back, but the trooper whom Ricoh had been assigned to during Jones’ termination later returned the dog to its abuser. How’s that for justice? Prosecutors tried to appeal Hardin’s ruling, but earlier this month, the appellate court upheld the lower court’s decision.
During the trial, prosecutor Tamara Zmuda had argued, “No reasonable person would do what [Jones] did.” Perhaps the same could be said of the judges who rewarded a serial abuser by putting him back in a position of authority.
Jim Longworth is the host of “Triad Today,” airing on Saturdays at 7:30 a.m. on ABC45 (cable channel 7) and Sundays at 11a.m. on WMYV (cable channel 15)