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RALEIGH, N.C. -- After a cell phone recorded video of State Highway Patrol Sgt. Charles L. Jones kicking his police dog, Ricoh, officials said the dog would be retired to another trooper's care.
Last month, a familiar face popped up in Jones' backyard, one neighbors thought they would never see again: Ricoh, the pointy-eared, 8-year-old Belgian Malinois with the deep, hearty bark.
Now, the patrol is launching a second investigation. This time, officials want to know how Ricoh wound up back with Jones, who is battling to keep his job on the force. The patrol is also asking the state Attorney General's office for legal advice in getting Ricoh returned to the patrol.
Until Thursday, patrol officials assumed that Ricoh was with Trooper Robert Reaves, a former canine handler who works out of Benson. Reaves had signed a contract to give Ricoh a home for life and never use him for police work or money-making ventures. He also agreed not to subject the dog to abuse or neglect. No money changed hands.
But Thursday, Ricoh was in Jones' backyard. He appeared to be in good health, barking as he paced behind a chain link fence. At times he rolled on his belly and lounged in the sun.
The News & Observer notified patrol officials, who then questioned Reaves. Patrol spokesman Capt. Everett Clendenin said Reaves admitted giving the dog to Jones 30 days ago. Reaves told internal investigators that he sent the dog to Jones to care for while he was on vacation. Patrol officials now question whether Reaves should have Ricoh at all.
Clendenin said N.C. Crime Control Secretary Bryan Beatty and patrol Commander Walter J. Wilson Jr. were surprised and upset to learn Ricoh was at Jones' home.
"It was never intended or even considered that Ricoh would end up back with Charles Jones," Beatty said in a statement. "It was never considered that Reaves would exercise such incredibly poor judgment."
Jones and Reaves could not be reached for comment. Jones and Reaves are both 39 and joined the patrol in 1994. Reaves had kept Ricoh for roughly a year.
Jones' wife, Angela, works as an administrative assistant for the patrol. She declined comment when she returned home Thursday afternoon and let Ricoh into the house. The couple rents the home from former patrol Commander Fletcher Clay, who retired in July.
The notorious video
Ricoh's return to the Jones home is another twist in a strange case that has drawn international attention. Video clips of Jones kicking Ricoh have drawn tens of thousands of hits on YouTube and news Web sites. During a training session in Raleigh, Jones took Ricoh out to a loading dock and strung him up by his lead so that his hind legs barely touched the ground. Jones then kicked Ricoh five times; some of the kicks caused the dog to swing under the loading dock.
The patrol initially planned minor discipline for Jones, but Gov. Mike Easley's office stepped in after The N&O learned of the video. His staff recommended that Jones be fired, and Beatty requested a criminal investigation into whether Jones abused Ricoh.
Jones fought the firing, saying he was not given a fair hearing. He also said his supervisors taught several harsh disciplinary tactics for canines.
At an administrative hearing, troopers testifying in Jones' behalf said that canines had been shocked with collars and stun guns, hung and swung from their leads, and hit with rock-filled bottles. They said Jones' actions did not constitute abuse, and backed his claims that Ricoh was a "hard-headed" dog. Medical records also showed Ricoh suffered no injuries.
The testimony was so jarring that Beatty suspended the canine unit. A review of unit practices has yet to be completed.
Senior Administrative Law Judge Fred Morrison recommended after the hearing that Jones be returned to duty with back pay. Two weeks ago, the State Personnel Commission agreed with his findings. The patrol has appealed the decision to state Superior Court.
Training reports for Ricoh that Jones had written during the 18 months before the incident gave no indication that the dog was a problem, but the patrol did not make them available to state attorneys defending Jones' firing. The N&O obtained them through a public records request.
An abiding affection
Wake County District Attorney Colon Willoughby said Thursday that he would not press criminal charges against Jones. Willoughby said he would have a hard time persuading a jury given the administrative decisions and the troopers' testimony.
"Under the law of North Carolina, if a person has a good-faith belief that the punishment they are administering is part of training, then they are not guilty of cruelty to animals," Willoughby said.
It's not clear that the patrol could get Ricoh back, since it did not retain control of him in giving him to Reaves. Willoughby said that may be just as well.
"I'm sure that the whole matter of him getting the dog back may be embarrassing, but the testimony that came out was that there was significant affection between the two of them, even despite this incident," Willoughby said. "So I don't know that it would be a matter that I ought to try to get into."