Salisbury Police Officer Accused Of Mistreating K-9 Resigns Before Termination Hearing

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SALISBURY, NC – A Salisbury police officer has resigned following an investigation into his treatment of a K-9 officer from late last year.

Disturbing video went viral. Police confirmed that it showed officer James Hampton acting “inappropriately” towards K-9 officer Zuul.

The internal investigation determined he acted in a “manner entirely inconsistent” with department policy.

“Obviously we don’t want this person near other K9 officers or even other animals,” said Rachel Bellis, with PETA.

The video shows officer Hampton swinging the dog around, grabbing him by the neck, and slamming the dog into a cruiser.

Bellis says unanswered questions remain.

“We have always pushed for a criminal investigation and do believe that these are cruelty to animal charges,” said Bellis.

Hampton resigned following the investigation and recommendation for his termination.

“I would think that no one would want to have a termination public on their record,” said Scott Maclatchie.

He is a law enforcement attorney. He says generally speaking, officers personnel files are accessible by prospective employers and that officers who resign under similar circumstances would have a tough time getting another policing job.

“I believe in reality it is highly unlikely that a bad apple, as you call it, would be able to be hired anywhere,” said Maclatchie.

Maclatchie says the profession is highly scrutinized and regulated.

“There can be loss of certification at the state level which would absolutely prevent an officer going from agency to agency because he’s not certified to be sworn,” said Maclatchie.

But some do make it through the cracks. According to a 2020 Yale Law journal review of 30 years of police personnel records in Florida, Roughly 3%, or 1,100 full time law enforcement officers, were working after being fired from another law enforcement agency.

It’s unclear if Hampton will seek employment at another agency.

As for Zuul, the dog is said to be doing well.  And is enjoying his time off at the professional canine care facility. No decisions have been made about whether he will return to the Salisbury police department.

PETA Responds:

PETA released a statement on Wednesday in response to a Salisbury Police Department handler, who was caught on video abusing a K-9 named Zuul, resigning, and asked what law enforcement plans to do to make sure no other K-9s suffer as Zuul did.

PETA Senior Vice President Daphna Nachminovitch says “Salisbury has taken a step in the right direction by finally heeding the international outcry surrounding the dragging, hauling, slamming, and punching of a K-9 named Zuul. Nonetheless, unanswered questions remain, including why this took five months and a viral video when other officers witnessed the abuse and some city officials were aware of it. We want to know when cruelty charges will finally be filed and what the Salisbury Police Department is doing to implement modern, humane training methods so that no other K-9s suffer as Zuul did. PETA looks forward to progress and transparency.”

Update (3/31/21):

The Salisbury Police Department announced Wednesday that the internal investigation into the actions Salisbury police officer James Hampton handled K-9 officer Zuul has been completed.

The extensive investigation was handled by a third-party agency, US ISS Agency.

“The Salisbury Police Department appreciates your patience and passion regarding the recent release of a K-9 training video,” Chief Jerry Stokes stated in a press release. “In an effort to restore and maintain the public confidence that has been detrimentally affected by this incident, the Salisbury Police Department would like to share that Officer James Hampton was K-9 Zuul’s handler, and was the officer depicted in the video engaging in inappropriate discipline of Zuul.”

Following a review from the police department it was determined that Officer Hampton ‘acted in a manner entirely inconsistent with his K-9 training and had violated Police Department policy.’ As a result, he was recommended for termination.

“The Police Department followed its disciplinary process, which requires that an employee subject to termination be afforded a due process hearing,” Stokes said. “Following that hearing, and prior to the Police Department formalizing any disciplinary action, Officer Hampton tendered his resignation, effective immediately. The Police Department did not incentivize or otherwise request Officer Hampton’s resignation, which he tendered as a matter of right.”

“While we understand the calls for the officer’s immediate termination, city employees are afforded due process which ensures fairness for everyone involved and which can take time,” Stokes said in the press release.

The Salisbury Police Department says that they will continue to review and make the necessary changes to their K-9 training operations, policies and procedures that align with industry best practices.

Update (3/4/21):

SALISBURY, N.C. — PETA supporters say they will meet at the Salisbury Police Department on Friday with signs saying “Justice for Zuul!” to demand the officer who mistreated the K9 to be held responsible.

PETA officials say the officer should be prosecuted for cruelty to animals and should not be allowed in contact with any animals in the future in response to the video footage of the police officer swinging K9 Zuul around, hauling him off the ground by his neck, keeping him in a choke hold, body slamming him, and punching the dog.

PETA supporters say they plan on meeting at the police department at 12 p.m. on March 5th.

PETA officials say they are calling for a criminal investigation and for the abuser depicted in the video to be prosecuted.

“Slamming a dog into a car, choking him, and punching him are not only a violation of a dog’s trust but also, PETA believes, a violation of state law,” says PETA President Ingrid Newkirk. “If the Salisbury Police Department defends such indefensible violence to an animal, the department’s K-9 unit should be disbanded.”

Original Story (3/3/21):

SALISBURY, N.C. – An investigation is underway after alarming video of a Salisbury Police officer handling his K9 leaked. The police department brought the dog, named Zuul, to a news conference Tuesday, to show it is unharmed and in good health.

Zuul’s handler has been separated from him while the investigation is underway. The video, which WCCB has seen and is working to obtain a copy of, shows the officer lift the dog off the ground by its collar, swing it over his back, and shove it into his police SUV. He then strikes the dog. Someone can be heard saying “We’re good, no witnesses,” and also, “Is your camera on?”

Tuesday, Chief Jerry Stokes said in part, “K9 training tactics and corrective measures can sometimes be alarming when provided out of context. SPD cannot and will not comment about whether the training tactics used in the video were appropriate because it’s still being reviewed.”

The chief says they’ve brought in an outside agency to handle the investigation. The chief also says a taser was never used on the dog at any point by anyone. The department is also reviewing its dog handling policies and procedures.