In Major Letdown, DA Declines to Prosecute Former PD Officer Who Abused K-9 Zuul

8 min read

You’ve all seen the now-viral video showing a Salisbury, North Carolina, police officer lifting and hauling a police dog named Zuul in a chokehold, slamming him against the side of a vehicle, and striking him with force—all while other officers watched, chuckled, and did nothing to help the dog. Below are updates regarding the case, including everything that PETA is doing to take action for Zuul and other K-9s.

Update: April 22, 2021

The Rowan County District Attorney’s Office announced yesterday evening that it will not bring criminal charges against James Hampton, the former police officer who was caught on camera abusing a K-9 named Zuul.

This is a kick in the teeth to the community and to every decent law-enforcement officer disgusted by the mistreatment of Zuul.

Choking, punching, and slamming a trusting dog and then calling it “training” is akin to beating a child and calling it “discipline”—neither is excusable. North Carolina’s animal protection laws apply to everyone, whether in uniform or not. While PETA joins the Salisbury community in our disgust that Zuul’s abuser won’t face charges, this disturbing case has exposed the violent training of many K-9s, and we impatiently await information on the Salisbury Police Department’s plans to overhaul its practices so that no more dogs will suffer as Zuul did.

While we keep working to assess K-9 training tactics at this agency and elsewhere, you can help, too: A new video shows a Colton, California, animal services officer (ASO) dragging a small, injured dog with a choke pole around his neck across concrete as he clearly experiences a great deal of distress, urinates involuntarily, gasps for air, and seizes or convulses. Click below to join PETA in urging officials to reassign this ASO permanently to a position that doesn’t involve any contact with animals:

Update: March 31, 2021

BREAKING: The Salisbury Police Department confirmed today that an “extensive investigation by a third-party agency, US ISS Agency” into the officer who was caught on camera hanging, body slamming, and punching a K-9 named Zuul has concluded, the officer was recommended for termination, and he has resigned.

This progress occurred because PETA and you relentlessly pushed for action, including an investigation by an independent, outside agency.

News of the resignation came immediately after PETA’s latest action: Early this morning, right before the department issued its news release, we sent a letter to the North Carolina Police Dog Association asking for the K-9 handler’s state certification to be revoked immediately and permanently. “This individual’s violent and abusive behavior toward his loyal K-9 partner indicates a serious lack of judgment and decency—qualities that the public demands and K-9s deserve from their human partners in law enforcement,” PETA Senior Vice President Daphna Nachminovitch wrote. The Salisbury Police Department issued its news release later the same day, which identified Zuul’s abuser as James Hampton, confirming the suspicions of a few outspoken locals who’d taken to social media to voice their concerns after the video was first leaked.

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.

While Hampton’s resignation is great news for Zuul and the four other K-9s within the Salisbury Police Department, we’re not yet calling this case closed. Help PETA prevent another incident like this: Click below to join us in pushing for greater transparency from the Salisbury Police Department and a continued investigation into the training practices of the agency’s K-9 unit:

Update: March 25, 2021

Zuul has a number of champions, and one of them is the Salisbury Post. The local paper has covered Zuul’s case from the moment the footage was first leaked earlier this month, including by publishing an op-ed by PETA President Ingrid Newkirk wherein she discusses her time working with the head of the Washington, D.C., Metropolitan Police Department’s K-9 unit and advocating for humane police dog training. She wrote:

Metropolitan Police dogs weren’t warehoused like mere equipment, kept in a cage somewhere, as some police dogs are; they all lived at home with their officer families and were considered fellow officers who did much the same work as their human partners. I observed the dogs’ training, and it was humane—not the kind of domination-based training that some police departments were using then and that the Salisbury Police Department still seems to be using today.

The paper has published several scathing evaluations, including a March 18 editorial comparing Zuul’s case to a previous cruelty case that went viral and resulted in criminal charges against the abuser.

But so far, there’s no evidence that the Salisbury Police Department is taking the incident seriously. From excusing the abuse as “out of context” to avoiding accountability by referring to this as a “personnel matter,” it has so far given no indication that the abuser has faced any disciplinary action or other consequences.

PETA will keep pushing for accountability for Zuul’s sake, but we need your help.

“Dogs are not robots. They are emotional, thinking and feeling beings. Like us, they relish freedom, enjoy pleasure, avoid pain and are anxious to help and loyal to a fault,” Newkirk said in the Salisbury Post. “The least we can do is get to know them better and treat them with respect and gratitude.” Join us in showing Zuul the respect and gratitude he deserves: Read on to discover more about his case as well as how, with a little effort, you can make a big difference.

Update: March 17, 2021

On the evening of March 16, PETA members joined other concerned area residents at a virtual Salisbury City Council meeting to demand answers—along with a criminal investigation and appropriate charges—in the case involving a Salisbury Police Department officer who had abused a K-9 named Zuul.

PETA staffer and Salisbury local Jeff Hege reminded council members that dogs should be treated as family members—not abused for a job they didn’t sign up for—and called out Chief of Police Jerry Stokes for attempting to whitewash the abusive officer’s behavior. PETA Manager of Local Affairs Rachel Bellis asked why the Salisbury Police Department has been allowed to “sweep this under the rug.”

The Salisbury community deserves action and answers, and you don’t have to be an area resident to demand them: Keep reading to find out how you can join PETA in calling for action in Zuul’s case.

Update: March 14, 2021

Following Salisbury, North Carolina, Mayor Pro Tem Al Heggins’ demand for answers regarding Zuul’s case, PETA Senior Vice President Daphna Nachminovitch penned her own call for accountability. In a letter to the Salisbury Post, she asked the important questions that are on the minds of everyone concerned for Zuul:

Why did this abuse not come to light until months after the video was apparently recorded? How much other abuse is occurring off camera? How long did Zuul remain with the officer who abused him before the officer was ‘administratively separated’ from the dog? Why was the dog examined by a veterinarian only now, far too late, after the public expressed outrage?

Read the full letter here, and keep scrolling to learn how you, too, can demand answers for Zuul.

Update: March 7, 2021

According to a March 4 Salisbury Police Department statement, Zuul was seen by a veterinarian that day (two days after the footage went public) and “received a clean bill of health.” But the Salisbury Post is reporting that there’s more to the story: A March 7 article revealed that the incident actually took place months before the video was leaked to the media and that there is no indication that Zuul was examined by a veterinarian immediately following the abuse.

Update: March 4, 2021

After the viral video below was leaked, PETA descended on the Salisbury Police Department to demand justice for Zuul (the dog abused in the footage) and to remind the department that no one—including the police—is above the law.

We demanded that the abusive officer be prosecuted for cruelty to animals and barred from having future contact with animals. We’ve made it easy for all concerned people to join us in speaking out: Keep scrolling to learn more about Zuul and how you can quickly and easily advocate for action, too.

Originally published on March 3, 2021:

Dogs used by police departments and sheriff’s offices depend on their human partners to have their back. So when a local news station broke the story about a police dog who was beaten and strangled by the very officer he should have been able to trust, PETA jumped in to demand accountability.

The now-viral video above shows a man identified as a Salisbury Police Department K-9

handler lifting a dog off the ground by a leash around the neck, swinging the animal over his shoulder, hauling him in a “choke hold” for several feet, slamming him against the side of a police vehicle, shoving him roughly against and into the vehicle, and punching him with force.

Onlookers who were apparently inside an adjacent 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.” Someone then says, “I think mine’s on,” followed by “Can you go flip my cameras off? Just the front camera.”

Clearly, these witnesses knew that the handler’s actions were wrong, cruel, and—we believe—criminal. Unfortunately, no one tried to stop the abuse.

Dogs do their best to please their guardians and to understand what is required of them, and they’re extremely loyal. But this abusive handler did more than violate this dog’s trust—we believe that he violated North Carolina law.

Our phones were flooded with calls from people in North Carolina and elsewhere who were outraged by the abuse in this footage. Despite the massive outcry, Salisbury Police Department Chief of Police Jerry Stokes downplayed the incident as a “personnel matter” and claimed that “corrective measures can sometimes be alarming out of context.” PETA didn’t buy that excuse for a second. We demanded a criminal investigation and prosecution of Zuul’s abuser by an independent, outside agency. And we called out Stokes’ “out of context” claim in a letter:

“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,” our letter said.

We also pointed out that the witnesses who took no action and engaged in a cover-up of this incident must also be investigated for collusion, aiding, and abetting—they should bear some responsibility for this dog’s suffering, too.

In addition to pushing for the abusive officer to be prosecuted for cruelty to animals, we’re calling for him to be barred from having any future contact with animals.

Join PETA in Demanding Criminal Charges

The Salisbury City Council has the power to hold the department accountable—it may be the most reliable body to ensure that an unbiased outside agency thoroughly investigates and prosecutes all parties to the fullest extent of the law. PETA and Zuul need your help to make that happen. Click below to learn how you can quickly and easily send a respectful message to council members, urging action:

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