After a yearlong investigation, Georgia officials are clearing 32 cadets training to be state troopers of claims that they cheated on a test.
The cheating claims last year led to the state firing the 32 cadets and the resignation of Mark McDonough, then head of the Georgia State Patrol.
The Peace Officer Standards and Training Council, which oversees training for state and local law enforcement officers statewide, tells news outlets that it has cleared all but one member of the training class.
“They made us feel like we were cheaters and that’s not what we were,” Daniel Cordell, one of the fired cadets, told WSB-TV.
The one cadet found to have actually cheated submitted his resignation. The other 32 were fired after an internal investigation determined they had passed an unsupervised speed detection exam with help.
“Did the cadets work together and utilize their computers? Yes. There is no doubt about what they did. Did they have the intent to be deceitful, to lie, to cheat? No,” said Mike Ayers, executive director of the POST council.
Ayers said the investigation found the troopers believed they were allowed to collaborate with each other and use computers and electronic devices for an online test. Academy staff said the troopers misunderstood; two instructors were decertified after the POST investigation. Ayers said sanctions were recommended for the cadet who resigned, the two instructors and a cadet from a previous class. He said those four cases are under appeal.
The 32 fired troopers maintained their certification and can be rehired as police officers.
“There is no indication that there was any willful deception on the part of those troopers,” Ayers said.
McDonough, who called the cheating allegations “a punch in the gut,” couldn’t be reached for comment. Gov. Brian Kemp, through a spokesman, referred all questions to POST. Current state patrol officials also declined comment, citing ongoing litigation.
Twenty-eight troopers have filed lawsuits against the agency, said attorney Jeff Peil, who represents two of the plaintiffs.
“It appears those in charge didn’t want to take the blame and put it all back on the cadets,” Peil told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
It’s unclear if the state patrol will offer the troopers their jobs back. Cordell, 32, said he isn’t sure if he’d accept such an offer.
He said his dismissal made landing another job difficult. He was hired months later by a nationwide retailer.
“The damage to me was financial, emotional and reputational,” he said.
POST found that while the troopers were not explicitly told to cheat by their instructors, they had no intention of sidestepping the rules.
“We know what we heard,” said Cordell, who noted that the test had not been proctored, as all other exams had been. “And we were taught to follow instructions or we’d be doing push-ups.”
Ayers said POST takes decertification seriously.
“Had there been an issue of a violation of their integrity then we would’ve taken their certification,” Ayers said. “We decertify more officers in this state than any other state in the nation.”