GARLAND — A former public works employee plans to take legal action against the town and its mayor for an incident involving dogs that allegedly escalated into threats of bodily harm and property damage.
During a meeting on Oct. 12, Mayor Winifred Murphy addressed the Garland Board of Commissioners about Robert Mooring and his pit bull terriers which were kept on town property. Murphy said the dogs were in attack mode. Before the incident, Mooring had recently been hired to fulfill a vacancy for public works duties. He was with the town for a matter of a few weeks before being dismissed.
Murphy and Mooring provided different accounts of what happened.
Mooring said he received permission from Commissioner Ralph Smith to put the pit bull terriers inside a kennel at the shop, while his wife recovered from a surgery and other medical reasons at Wayne Memorial Hospital in Goldsboro. One is used for certified therapy and the other is a six-month old puppy. Mooring, a resident of Magnolia, said it takes about 30 minutes to get to Garland and the arrangement accommodated his work situation.
“Ralph was just being a decent human being, a good boss,” Mooring said. “He was just trying to work with me. I’m making efforts to still show up to work and not making an excuse to leave and he’s making an effort to accommodate.”
After he was hired, Mooring was told that Smith was in charge of public works and is the first-line supervisor to handle questions or incidents. If there’s an issue, it should be sent to Garland’s board, he said. But Mooring said the mayor overstepped her bounds for political and personal reasons when it came to public works duties, which resulted in another employee quitting.
“I don’t answer directly to the mayor,” he said. “If the mayor has something she wants us to do, she relays that through a work order to Ralph.”
According to Mooring, Murphy asked questions about the dog and spoke to Smith about it. It was later brought to the board’s attention for a decision. The board did not take any action, but they let Mooring know that it should be a temporary solution. During the Oct. 12 meeting, the commission made a decision not to have dogs on town property unless they are dogs caught in traps for a short period of time.
Murphy also stressed that it’s a liability issue for the town and Board Attorney Micheal Porter advised not to have dogs on town property. She described his pets as “dangerous breed of dogs.” But Mooring said his dogs were harmless, well trained and mentioned times when they were around infants.
During the incident, Mooring said he let the dogs out of the kennel to use the bathroom. Soon after, he reported that Murphy and her husband arrived at the shop. The puppy started barking and the older dog was next to him. He stated that neither one of the dogs ran toward the mayor and were not aggressive.
Mooring claimed that the mayor’s husband, Danny Murphy, threatened to shoot the dogs and him. After contacting his supervisor, Mooring submitted a report with the Garland Police Department.
A report obtained from the Garland Police Department alleges that “the suspect threatened the victim verbally while holding a handgun.” Police Chief Ron Matthews said that, since the incident does not involve a felony, Mooring can seek charges from the Sampson County magistrate. A report was also filed with the Sampson County Sheriff’s Office by Murphy alleging assault on a government official, assault with a deadly weapon and damage to personal property for scratches on her truck.
No arrests were made as a result of the incident, however both parties were issued subpoenas to appear in court on different days in November for the filed charges.
Murphy declined to release a statement, citing legal reasons.
At the previous meeting, Murphy held the board responsible for personal liability, which included $200 for her truck. Mooring stated that it involved scratches on the driver’s side of the vehicle.
“How could they scratch the driver’s side if she was surrounded on (the passenger’s side)?” Mooring said.
Following the meeting, Mooring was subsequently notified that he was terminated from his job. He believes it is retaliation for the incident. According to town officials, his start date was Sept. 25. Mooring was notified that his job was coming to an end on Oct. 13.
“They don’t have to have any reason to terminate your employment at all,” he said. “It’s a free to work state.”
Mooring has hired legal counsel and is the process of taking some kind of action. He also filed a hostile work environment complaint with the North Carolina Department of Labor. Mooring said he has gone to Vidant Duplin Hospital and was diagnosed with panic attacks and anxiety disorder because of the incident. He said he is not looking to get rich of the incident and is just seeking compensation for medical reasons and completed work.
“I enjoyed my job, I enjoyed the Town of Garland and I enjoyed the people I worked with,” he said. “I really do hate that it went down like that.”
Reach Chase Jordan at 910-249-4617. Follow us on Twitter at @SampsonInd and like us on Facebook.