Update: April 22, 2021
The Rowan County District Attorney’s Office has concluded that the actions in the video do not constitute a crime, and it will not pursue criminal charges against former Officer James Hampton, who is seen in the video hanging, slamming, and punching K-9 Zuul. According to the official statement, several fellow K-9 handlers and outside K-9 training experts agreed that Hampton’s actions were “excessive and not necessary,” this “discipline … went too far,” Zuul “was disciplined incorrectly,” and such techniques “have not proven to be useful and are neither common practice nor industry standard.”
Update: March 31, 2021
The Salisbury Police Department has released a statement indicating that the third-party investigation has concluded and the internal review determined that “Officer [James] Hampton had acted in a manner entirely inconsistent with his K-9 training and had violated Police Department policy.” Hampton was recommended for termination but tendered his resignation, effective immediately, before the department could formalize any disciplinary action. There have been no updates yet regarding whether he will face criminal charges. In addition, veterinary records posted on the city’s website confirm that the incident caught on video occurred in October 2020 and Zuul was not examined by a veterinarian until after the footage was leaked nearly five months later. According to the local newspaper, some city officials also knew about the incident but no action was taken until the video went public.
Update: March 24, 2021
The Salisbury Police Department has stated that K-9 Zuul was seen by a veterinarian on March 4, two days after the video went public, and “received a clean bill of health.” But a March 7 article in the local newspaper revealed that the incident took place “months” prior to when the video was leaked to the media. There is no indication that Zuul was examined by a veterinarian immediately following the abuse. On March 16, the Salisbury City Council heard public comments from numerous compassionate, concerned residents. The city has not yet released any more information regarding the abuse or the apparent investigation into it, despite Mayor Pro Tem Al Heggins’ insistence that “the information is necessary and essential because our council has to be clear … that we will not tolerate in our city services any element that erodes public confidence and trust.” On March 18, the local newspaper published an editorial comparing the Zuul case to another case of cruelty to an animal that went viral and—thanks in part to unrelenting pressure from the public—resulted in criminal charges against the abuser. On March 24, the paper published an op-ed by PETA President Ingrid Newkirk advocating for humane K-9 training and reminding readers that “dogs like humans break down mentally if they are bullied.”
A recently leaked video shows a man identified as a Salisbury, North Carolina, police officer lifting a K9 named Zuul off the ground by the leash, swinging the dog over his shoulder, hauling him in this “choke hold” for several feet, body slamming him against the side of a police vehicle, violently shoving him against and then into the vehicle, and, in a final display of ill will toward the loyal dog—who compliantly receives all this abuse with apparent learned helplessness—punching Zuul with force.
The men inside another police vehicle with the camera that filmed the incident can be heard in the footage. One says, “We’re good; no witnesses.” Then someone chuckles. 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.” Appallingly, no one tried to stop the abuse.
Dogs do their best to please and to understand what is required of them, and they’re extremely loyal. The cruelty inflicted on the dog in the video is a violation of that trust and, PETA believes, North Carolina law. The police department claims to be investigating the incident and has “administratively separated” Zuul from the offending handler but maintains that this is a “personnel matter” and that “[K9] training tactics and corrective measures can sometimes be alarming [when provided] out of context.” There is no scenario in which this handler’s behavior could be considered acceptable by any standard, and we believe this is far more than an internal disciplinary matter: It is criminal conduct. Furthermore, witnesses who took no action and in fact engaged in a cover-up of this incident also bear responsibility for this dog’s suffering.
The Salisbury City Council has the power to hold the police department accountable and may be the most reliable body to ensure that the department operates with full transparency in order to restore the public’s trust and confidence in the department and city government. Pressure from the public and council members may also help ensure that the department thoroughly evaluates its existing K-9 training practices so that the abuse Zuul suffered is no longer considered “training tactics and corrective measures [that are] alarming out of context.” It’s clear that such abuse has been considered the status quo and it must never happen again.
If you agree with us, please send a message to council members to help us maintain pressure on the city so that the abuse Zuul endured is not forgotten or swept under the rug. Feel free to use this text as a template, and please keep your message polite and respectful.
Please send polite comments to:
The Honorable Karen K. Alexander
The Honorable Al Heggins
Mayor Pro Tem
The Honorable David Post
The Honorable Brian Miller
The Honorable Tamara Sheffield
Please feel free to use our sample letter, but remember that using your own words is always more effective.