Court rules ECU police officer fired over St. Patrick’s Day assault must be reinstated

GREENVILLE, N.C. (WNCT) — A former ECU police officer who was fired in connection to a 2016 assault on St. Patrick’s Day must be reinstated, according to a court decision.

East Carolina University said their counsel’s office was notified Tuesday the North Carolina Court of Appeals upheld a February 2017 court decision by an administrative law judge deciding former ECU police officer Ralph Whitehurst should be reinstated as a police officer with the ECU Police Department.

The decision requires Whitehurst be reinstated with a demotion and receive retroactive pay equivalent to the demoted level.

Whitehurst was dismissed from the ECU Police Department after an internal investigation revealed he violated multiple police policies in his response to the March 17, 2016,assault.

He was placed on investigatory leave March 21, 2016 while internal investigation occurred.

The university decided to dismiss White, but he appealed the decision.

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 Office of Administrative Hearings.

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, according to the university.

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