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Court says ECU police officer dismissed over 2016 incident should get job back

(MGNOnline.com photo)

An East Carolina University Police officer who was dismissed from his position after an incident that happened on St. Patrick's Day, 2016 should be reinstated, a court ruled on Tuesday.

ECU issued a press release that said a N.C. Court of Appeals upheld the February 2017 decision to reinstate Ralph Whitehurst, who was dismissed from his position after an assault that happened on March 17, 2016. Whitehurst was placed on investigatory leave on March 21, 2016 while an investigation took place. Whitehurst was dismissed on April 19, 2016, according to the press release.

An exact date for Whitehurst's return has not been determined.

Six people eventually arrested for the incident pleaded guilty on Nov. 6, 2017.

Below is the full press release from ECU.

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On Tuesday, Feb. 6, the East Carolina University counsel’s office was notified that the North Carolina Court of Appeals upheld the February 2017 decision of the Administrative Law Judge Donald Overby of the North Carolina Office of Administrative Hearings (OAH), deciding that former ECU police officer Ralph Whitehurst should be reinstated as a police officer with the ECU Police Department.

The decision requires that the former police sergeant be reinstated with a demotion and receive retroactive pay equivalent to the demoted level.

On April 19, 2016, Whitehurst, was dismissed from his position with the ECU Police Department after an internal investigation indicated that he violated multiple police policies in connection with his response to a March 17, 2016 assault that occurred on ECU’s campus. He was placed on investigatory leave March 21, 2016 while an internal investigation occurred.

Disciplinary action for state government employees at all levels is governed by the State Human Resources Act (SHRA). The university and Whitehurst followed the procedures of dismissal and appeal based on the guidelines of the SHRA and Whitehurst appealed the university’s decision of dismissal. Representatives for ECU and Whitehurst presented information to an administrative law judge during the appeal process who determined that Whitehurst violated police policies and engaged in unacceptable personal conduct but that dismissal was not the appropriate level of discipline. ECU then filed an appeal with the North Carolina Court of Appeals asking the court to review the decision from OAH.

Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) Donald Overby’s decision stated, “Respondent met its burden of proof, by the preponderance of evidence, that Petitioner’s actions on the night of March 17, 2016 constitute unacceptable personal conduct that cause exists for disciplining Petitioner however, taking into account all the facts and circumstances in this case, this Tribunal concludes that dismissal was not appropriate discipline in this contested case.”

Bill Koch, ECU Associate Vice Chancellor of Environmental Health and Campus Safety, said, “State government employees are held to the same standards of conduct across the board, meaning police officers are not held to higher standards than other state employees. In this case, the law allowed the ALJ and the court to substitute their judgment for that of ECU and they came to a different conclusion.”

An exact date of Whitehurst's return has not been determined and a date was not included in the decision. Experience, training and past work performance are taken into consideration in determining work assignments for all ECU police officers.

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