RALEIGH, N.C. -- During a three-day hearing in April, one trooper after another talked about a hard-headed, "alpha male" police canine named Ricoh. They didn't paint him as a best friend.
The troopers said the dog was so stubborn his handler was justified in nearly suspending Ricoh by his lead and kicking him five times after a frustrating training session. The troopers all said that Ricoh's handler, Sgt. Charles L. Jones, should keep his job.
Ricoh, an 8-year-old Belgian Malinois, couldn't speak in his defense. But unbeknownst to state attorneys who sought to uphold Jones' dismissal, someone had repeatedly sung Ricoh's praises.
In reports of more than 240 training sessions leading up to the now infamous kicking incident, which was caught on video, Jones issued one positive report after another.
During those 18 months, the reports show that Ricoh obeyed voice commands and hand signals, found illegal drugs stashed in cars and buildings, or passed by those that were clean. He was praised, rewarded or both nearly every time.
"Ricoh was utilized for an obedience exercise," Jones wrote in one report on June 11, 2007. "Ricoh did well following all voice and hand commands. Ricoh was rewarded and praised."
This is a dog, Jones testified, that was so difficult to train that he used a shock collar on him until the patrol banned them. Jones said he had requested Ricoh be taken out of service.
Jones, a 12-year veteran of the patrol, could not be reached for comment. His attorney, Jack O'Hale of Smithfield, said he was unaware that the reports existed, but they should not outweigh the testimony of Jones and his colleagues.
"I don't think you'd find 14 or 15 guys to get together and lie under oath," O'Hale said.
He later faxed a statement saying that "Jones was trained by the NC Highway Patrol on how to handle his canine and was likewise trained by the Highway Patrol how to complete his canine records. All of these records were submitted to and approved by the Highway Patrol canine supervisors."
The Highway Patrol did not turn the reports over to O'Hale or the Attorney General's Office. The News & Observer obtained them through a records request that specified training and injury records.
The discrepancy between the reports and the testimony is significant because the incident prompted a criminal investigation by the State Bureau of Investigation. Wake County District Attorney Colon Willoughby has yet to say whether he plans to charge Jones.
Ashby T. Ray, one of the two assistant attorney generals who represented the patrol at the hearing, referred all questions to a department spokeswoman, Noelle Talley. She said in a statement that the department is now requesting the records from the patrol.
"Our attorneys presented the strongest case possible using the information made available to them," Talley said. "The records you asked about were not among those originally provided to us, and we're now working on getting them."
Capt. Everett Clendenin, a patrol spokesman, could not explain why the records surfaced only after the hearing. Patrol Commander Walter J. Wilson Jr. said in a statement they give him no reason to change the patrol's decision to fire Jones.
"His mistreatment of his canine was unacceptable," said Wilson, who became commander in July.
Sniffing out drugs
The patrol's canine unit has had 11 dogs in use over the past eight years. The dogs have sniffed out millions of dollars' worth of drugs and currency with noses so sensitive that one dog found packaged cocaine floating in a gas tank. Ricoh alone helped find a combined $10 million in drugs and cash, Jones testified.
Jones' case has caused a rift within the patrol. Some in the field and in the upper echelons of the 1,400-member force said that he should not have been fired. But once Gov. Mike Easley's staff saw the video, recorded by another trooper on his cell phone, Jones' days on the force were numbered. After the hearing, a state administrative court judge found that Jones should have his job back because pressure from the Governor's Office prevented Jones from getting a fair hearing.
The State Personnel Commission is weighing whether to accept the judge's findings.
At the hearing, troopers testified that Ricoh and other dogs received tough discipline to get them to obey commands. They were swung and hung from their leads, zapped with shock collars and stun guns and hit with plastic bottles filled with rocks.
The harsh measures were necessary, they said, because the dogs need to obey commands to release people and contraband. The dogs are powerful enough to kill, and the drug packages they find could kill them if ingested.
But none of the reports any of the canine unit officers filed reflected these disciplinary measures. The most detailed description used was a jerked lead.
Dog abuse not banned
An initial review by the patrol found that there has been a desire within the field to not document training tactics for fear they would become public. It also found that the patrol's written policies did not include a ban on the abuse of police dogs.
"Nowhere within that policy does it state that abuse of any NCSHP canine, to include but not limited to kicking, punching and beating, is prohibited and will not be tolerated," wrote Jim Watson, national secretary of the North American Police Work Dog Association. The patrol asked him to review the policies.
"This needs to be included immediately," he wrote.
Canine officers say no dog has been abused or seriously injured during training. Medical records show the worst injury to a dog happened outside of training in 2005, when Arnie, then a 3-year-old Belgian Malinois, was struck and nearly killed by a truck near the home of the trooper assigned to handle him. Arnie suffered a skull fracture, a broken leg, severe lung trauma and a deep cut on his muzzle.
His handler, Trooper Tommy Barbour Jr., said Arnie bolted from his outdoor kennel to a dog across the street. That put him in the path of the truck. He recovered fully and was returned to duty.
The controversial tactics discussed during the hearing have led to a suspension of the program. A second review is under way, one that patrol officials say could lead to deploying dogs that would only sniff out contraband and not be expected to chase suspects or protect troopers.
In testimony, Jones said Ricoh was very hard to train.
In a 15-second video taken by a trooper with his cell phone, Sgt. Charles L. Jones kicks his dog, Ricoh, five times. The dog was tied by its leash to a loading dock railing.
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