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Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Hatgate returns to court

Posted by on Tue, May 19, 2015 at 7:00 AM

Hold onto your hats!

The N.C. Supreme Court will hear oral arguments this morning for Wetherington v. North Carolina Department of Public Safety, AKA "Hat Gate," which we featured two years ago. It's a bizarre case involving a N.C. state trooper who lost his Highway Patrol-issued campaign hat during a traffic stop. He lied to his superiors about why it went missing, and then came clean during a tearful confession.

Trooper Thomas Wetherington's dishonesty got him fired. But he  fought back, arguing that it's ridiculous for a trooper to lose a his job over a $25 hat. In 2013 the Court of Appeals agreed with Wetherington, and directed the Highway Patrol to put him back on the road. But the N.C. Department of Justice petitioned the Supreme Court to consider the case.

Wetherington lost the hat in question during blustery night in 2009, in Craven County. After pulling over a speeding truck, the young trooper lost his Smokey-the-Bear hat during the traffic stop. He couldn't find it. Neither could a search party dispatched to the scene the next day. Wetherington told his supervisors that the hat blew off his head and was crushed by a truck. A few weeks later, however, the man whom the trooper had pulled over delivered the hat to the Highway Patrol. The man had seen it on the side of the road that blustery evening, and he kept it. Upon its return to the Highway Patrol, the hat had remained intact.

Wetherington was fired for violating the patrol's truthfulness policy. But the Court of Appeals ruled that the punishment did not fit the crime.

Oral arguments will begin at the Supreme Court this morning around 10:30 a.m.
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