Salisbury officer accused of mistreating K-9 resigns before termination hearing

Officer on video identified as James Hampton, no longer with Salisbury Police
Updated: Mar. 31, 2021 at 11:49 AM EDT
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SALISBURY, N.C. (WBTV) - An internal investigation into the way Salisbury police officer James Hampton handled K-9 officer Zuul has been completed, according to Salisbury Police Chief Jerry Stokes.

“The Salisbury Police Department appreciates your patience and passion regarding the recent release of a K-9 training video,” wrote Chief Jerry Stokes in a press release received on Wednesday. “The extensive investigation by a third-party agency, US ISS Agency, has concluded.

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“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. The Police Department’s review determined that Officer Hampton had 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. 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 wrote.

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

The investigation began in early March after a video surfaced showing the officer and the four-year-old K-9 named Zuul training at the Mid-Carolina Regional Airport. In the video, Hampton can be seen getting out of a police vehicle, leaving the back door of the SUV open. The police dog jumps from the vehicle and tries to follow the officer, but immediately lies down when the Hampton yells at him.

The video, which was apparently shot months earlier, appeared to show Hampton lifting Zuul off the ground by his leash, swinging him around, slamming him against a patrol car, shoving him inside the patrol car, then striking him with his hand.

Voices on the video can be heard on the video. One says, “We’re good; no witnesses.” Then one asks, “Is your camera on?” and the response is “Uh, no, my power’s off.” Then someone says, “I think mine’s on,” followed by “Can you go flip my cameras off? Just the front camera.”

Hampton was hired by the Salisbury Police Department on August 5, 2013, was promoted twice, and has held the rank of Master Police Officer since November, 2019. Hampton has resigned from the Salisbury Police Department.

The January 5, 2021 agenda for the Salisbury City Council meeting includes an item in the consent agenda to gift SPD K-9 Arnie to Hampton. After a brief discussion, the item was removed from the agenda.

“A thorough investigation of this specific incident and of the entire Salisbury Police Department’s K-9 operations is still ongoing by an outside agency and internal affairs. Once complete, we will take appropriate action to ensure that the department’s canine program follows the industry’s best K-9 practices,” Chief Jerry Stokes said at the time.

Chief Stokes said that Zuul was “administratively separated” from Hampton.

Many in the community were outraged over the video. The news was reported in national media outlets. People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) staged a protest at the police department and encouraged people to comment at a Salisbury City Council meeting.

“People are outraged about this, said Rachel Bellis with PETA.” “This is not just here in this area, this is National, people want to see justice happen. They need to investigate. At the minimum, this officer needs to be reassigned to another division where he will have no officer with canines or other animals and he should be prosecuted for cruelty.”

After hearing of the update on Wednesday, PETA Senior Vice President Daphna Nachminovitch issued this response to the announcement that the Salisbury Police Department that Zuul’s handler has resigned:

“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.”

Chief Stokes said the investigation included former police dog handlers from other departments, an owner of a police canine training firm and members of the Salisbury department’s K-9 supervisory staff.

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