Salisbury police officer accused of mistreating K-9 resigns

SALISBURY, N.C. — A Salisbury police officer accused of mistreating a K-9 during training has resigned. The Salisbury Police Department said the K-9 handler acted inappropriately when disciplining a police dog.

Channel 9 anchor Allison Latos broke the initial story earlier this month.

The video at the center of the investigation shows Officer James Hampton 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.

In a release, the police department said the US ISS Agency investigated the incident.

The department said Hampton “acted in a manner entirely inconsistent with his training and violated police department policy.” He was recommended to be fired but has since resigned.

The video first shows the dog exiting a police SUV before Hampton 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.

Below is the full statement released by the Salisbury Police Department:

“The Salisbury Police Department appreciates your patience and passion regarding the recent release of a K-9 training video. The extensive investigation by a third-party agency, US ISS Agency, has concluded. 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.

“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.”

PETA had organized protests in Salisbury, demanding discipline against the officer and even criminal prosecution.

Now, PETA’s Rachel Bellis told Channel 9 the group still wants answers.

“Will criminal charges be taken out against this individual? And what is going to happen to the other officers who sat by while Hampton choked, dragged, slammed and hit Zuul,” Bellis said.

In the cell phone video from the October incident, you can hear voices of those watching.

“We’re good, no witnesses,” someone in the video is heard saying.

Wednesday, in a text, Salisbury Mayor Pro Tem Al Heggins said she’s concerned about that, calling the language disturbing and it “does not foster confidence and trust in the public. This language should not be accepted as the culture of our police department.”

Salisbury police told Channel 9 they are not exploring criminal charges against Hampton and any disciplinary action against other officers would be considered a personnel matter.

While PETA said Hampton’s resignation is a step in the right direction, they are calling for departmental changes.

“It is definitely time for an overhaul of their K-9 training methods,” Bellis said. “We look to the police department to lead by example and it is time for transparency and progress.”

Hampton could work for another police department, but Salisbury officials said they are required to notify the State Justice Standards Commission about the circumstances of his resignation.

If another agency wants to hire him, they will clear it with the commission.

Channel 9 learned Zuul was not taken to the vet to be checked until nearly five months after the incident, but police said he showed no signs of injury.