Since 2009 attorneys for North Carolina State Trooper Thomas C. Wetherington have worked to reinstate Trooper Wetherington after he was terminated. He was terminated for a violation of the North Carolina Department of Public Safety’s truthfulness policy as a result of his misplaced trooper hat. The FOP weighed in on two separate occasions as amicus curiae. First, in 2015 in the North Carolina Supreme Court. Second, in the second rendition of the case before the North Carolina Court of Appeals in 2019. On February 18, 2020 the North Carolina Court of Appeals, on de novo review, determined that Trooper Wetherington’s conduct was not just cause for dismissal, and ordered him reinstated to the position from which he was removed 11 years ago. Wetherington v. N.C. Dept. of Public Safety, No. COA18-1018 (N.C. Ct. App. Feb. 18, 2020).
On March 29, 2009, Trooper Wetherington, while on duty, made a traffic stop of a pickup truck at 10:00 PM. He encountered two loaded handguns in the truck and the odor of alcohol. During the stop, a second vehicle had pulled off to the side of the road in front of the stopped truck. Trooper Wetherington testified that he first noticed his missing trooper hat when he approached the second stopped vehicle. After searching for, but not locating his hat, he told his superior that his hat had blown off his head and he could not find it. He later testified that three to four days later he realized his hat did not blow off his head but rather had blown off his light bar. He did not bother to correct his story with his supervisors because he did not believe the issue was material. His hat was later found but due to the inconsistency in his statements, he was terminated for violating the Department’s truthfulness policy.
As cogently summarized by the North Carolina Court of Appeals:
It is unlikely so many lawyers have ever before written so many pages because of a lost hat…Up to this point, this case includes over 1,000 pages of evidence, testimony, briefs, and rulings from courts, from the agency level to the Supreme Court and back to this Court for a second time….[This matter] is about the tension between the statutorily protected rights of a law enforcement officer and proper discipline to protect the integrity of the North Carolina State Highway Patrol.
On behalf of Trooper Wetherington, the FOP as amicus curiae argued that the application of an agency truthfulness policy must be objectively analyzed and determined in order to only punish real cases of intentional untruthfulness regarding significant and material matters. Trooper Wetherington conducted an especially dangerous, high-risk traffic stop which may have had an impact on his recollection. Trooper Wetherington was primarily focused on the intoxicated occupants and loaded weapons. He was not intentionally deceptive about the location of his trooper hat and did not rush to correct his story once he remembered what happened to his hat because he did not believe it was material to the case. No just cause existed for his termination and no truthfulness violation occurred. Truthfulness policies must be objective to ensure that only willful untruthfulness about significant and material matters is punishable by termination.
After 11 years of legal proceedings across nearly every forum in North Carolina, in a massive victory and vindication for the rights of police officers, the North Carolina Court of Appeals ordered Trooper Wetherington reinstated and “other suitable action to correct the abuse which may include the requirement of payment for any loss of salary….”
Click here to read the FOP’s Amicus Brief from 2015.
Click here to read the FOP’s Amicus Brief from 2019.
Amicus curiae, or “friend of the court,” is a brief filed to bring to the attention of the Court relevant matter not already brought to its attention by the parties to the matter before it. The FOP offer their service as amicus curiae when important law enforcement rights are at stake, serving as the voice of law enforcement. During recent times when police and public tensions are strained, the FOP’s perspective is critical in balancing both police and public safety interests.
Crabbe, Brown and James, LLP on behalf of the National Fraternal Order of Police, serves as its General Counsel and offers its services as amicus curiae in cases across the country, including to the United States Supreme Court. In 2019, the FOP filed amicus briefs in four separate cases, including three to the United States Supreme Court. So far, in 2020, the FOP has requested to be heard in support of a petition to the United States Supreme Court in Jones, et al. v. Lamkin, et al.; Case No. 19-726.