PETA protests Salisbury PD after video of police K-9 training prompts investigation

SALISBURY, N.C. — An internal investigation of K-9 training is underway after video showed a Salisbury police officer lifting a K-9 by a leash and slamming the animal into the side of a police vehicle, officials said.

The video at the center of the investigation shows the officer placing a collar on 4-year-old K-9 Zuul, then lifting the dog off the ground using the collar. After struggling to get the dog into the back of a vehicle, the officer appears to strike the animal.

Salisbury Police Chief Jerry Stokes told Channel 9 he couldn’t comment in detail about what happened. Stokes said Zuul wasn’t hurt or stunned and has since been separated from the officer.

>> In the video below, Eyewitness News anchor Allison Latos speaks with Stokes to find out if other officers were involved, and whether anyone else in the department is under investigation.

Zuul was on hand with Stokes for a Tuesday news conference about the investigation.

Stokes wouldn’t say if the treatment was appropriate.

“The officer has been administratively separated from the K-9 while SPD conducts its review,” Stokes said on Tuesday.

The video first shows the dog exiting a police SUV before the handler yells “stay.” The officer puts a leash on the dog, lifts it up and begins swinging the animal around his back as he walks towards the SUV, the video shows.

The video then shows the officer slamming the dog into the SUV before shoving the dog into the car. The officer yells “stay” and then hits the dog.

Stokes said the officer’s actions may have been part of training tactics but didn’t comment on whether those tactics were appropriate. He added that K-9s are trained to be used against criminal suspects and “when a canine is non-compliant with the handler’s commands, the handler is trained to correct the dog.”

An outside agency will be investigating and the department is reviewing its K-9 policy and guidelines.

The officer’s name wasn’t immediately released.

PETA held a protest on Friday outside the police Department on E. Liberty Street, with signs proclaiming “Justice for Zuul!” to demand that the officer be prosecuted for cruelty to animals and barred from any future contact with animals, the organization said.

“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,” said 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.”

On Friday, the police department issued the following statement:

“We appreciate your concern for K-9 Officer Zuul. He was removed from the handler’s care when we were made aware of this incident. Zuul was taken to a veterinarian this week for another checkup and received a clean bill of health. He is in good hands, happy and healthy, and taking some time off. The officer involved has been administratively separated from K-9 Officer Zuul and K-9 operations. We cannot comment further regarding the officer because it is an ongoing personnel matter. When we are able to release information to the public we will, within legal limits. 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.”

The Associated Press contributed to this article.