Eastern Carolina Trooper Fired Over Lost Hat

A North Carolina state trooper who said he was fired because his bosses thought he lied about the fate of his $45 hat is fighting his dismissal.

Thomas Wetherington, 22, told The News & Observer of Raleigh that losing his job in a misunderstanding about his hat is especially galling considering the kind of misconduct other troopers have committed without getting fired.

A review committee ruled in September that Wetherington should be reinstated and the conduct of the supervisor who pushed for his removal be reviewed. But the Highway Patrol hasn't put Wetherington back on the highway and he is awaiting a hearing before a judge who can make the patrol put him back on the force.

Patrol spokesman Capt. Everett Clendenin wouldn't talk to the newspaper about the case, citing the pending legal action.

Wetherington's saga began an a blustery night in March when he pulled over a vehicle towing a boat on U.S. 70 in Craven County. While seizing guns and alcohol, he set his hat on his patrol car, then heard it tumble down the asphalt in the dark. He returned later and looked for it for two hours without success.

Wetherington had to file a form to get a new hat, and he wrote that it blew away and was likely run over. But another trooper pulled over the same driver two weeks later, and the man had Wetherington's hat, which he said he picked up after the trooper left. Wetherington's name and phone number were in the hatband, but the driver never called.

The Highway Patrol ruled Wetherington violated its code of conduct, which requires troopers to always tell the truth.

The agency has had plenty of trouble with troopers following the conduct code. Since 1998, the patrol has dealt with at least 27 cases of sexual misconduct by troopers either on or off duty. In several cases, those involved were not fired, including a trooper who received a five-day suspension in 2002 after he was caught repeatedly having sex on duty in and on his parked patrol car. On one occasion, the trooper inadvertently left his handgun behind, where children later found it, the newspaper reported.

Those stories frustrate Wetherington, who said he just wants to get back out on the road, serving the people.

"I bleed black and silver," said Wetherington, noting the colors on his hat and the patrol's uniform. "This was my life, and they took it away from me. All I want is to get it back."

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