Fired state trooper denies cheating, says recruits followed orders
He seeks Gov. Kemp’s permission to retake test
AJC CONTINUING COVERAGE: GEORGIA STATE PATROL
By Christian Boone
Feb 21, 2020
They’ve been dismissed as cheaters and lazy millennials. Many of them are struggling to find new jobs.
Christopher Cordell is among the 30 recent graduates of the Georgia State Patrol’s 106th trooper class who were fired after an internal investigation determined they had passed an unsupervised speed detection exam with a little help from their friends, the internet and each other.
Cordell doesn’t dispute the findings but insists he and his fellow graduates were simply following orders. Two members — the class president and a squad leader — had already failed the test, said Cordell, and it would have been embarrassing to the instructors if the rest also fell short.
“Our instructors told us there was no reason for us to fail the test,” said Cordell, who, at 31, was the oldest member of the class. “They encouraged us to use all the resources at our disposal.”
An order had been given, Cordell said. As a recruit, it was not for him to question.
“We learned early on, if you questioned instructors you’d be on the pavement doing push-ups,” he said.
Cordell contends their terminations were unjust, and he is appealing to Gov. Brian Kemp to reconsider.
Attorney McCracken Poston said his clients and the other young troopers were scapegoats. Cordell is considering possible legal options, Poston said. His objective is merely to be given an opportunity to retake the test.
“This is an appeal directly to the governor,” Poston said. “Don’t use a sledgehammer to fix this when a scalpel will do.”
‘Weren’t Trying to Hide It’
Daysi Ramirez, also a member of the 106th class, confirmed that each trainee received the same message.
“Y’all have (computer terminals) in your room and y’all have each other,” said Ramirez, quoted in the GSP investigation. “Use your resources. … Don’t let anyone else fail.”
And that’s what they did.
Cordell said he sought help from a classmate, a former cop who had previously been trained on using the speed detection devices.
He took the online test with several other trainees on the grounds of the Georgia Public Safety Training Center in Forsyth. Cordell said one of his instructors passed by as the students collaborated on their exams. Others had tracked down old tests online, sharing information via social media apps.
“We weren’t trying to hide it,” Cordell said. “If I’m cheating, I’m not going to blatantly do it in the open.”
Everyone passed. No questions were asked. The newly minted troopers were dispersed to 52 patrol posts across the state.
A few months later, the graduates of the 106th class were told they were under investigation. A woman who was previously involved with one of the graduates, Demon Clark, told administrators she took, and passed, the speed detection exam for Clark.
When told of the allegation, Clark, according to former GSP head Col. Mark McDonough, said, “‘I’m not the only one who cheated.’ He made the allegation that everyone had cheated.”
“When that occurs, that gets your attention,” McDonough told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution in late January. (A few weeks later, Gov. Kemp informed McDonough his services were no longer needed.)
Members of the 106th class were interviewed, one by one. They confessed, but to what?
“We were told if we didn’t pass the test we wouldn’t be troopers,” Cordell said. “What does use every resource you have mean?”
In late January, the young troopers were informed they were being placed on paid leave. One day later, they were fired.
Investigation, Fallout Continue
Everyone now acknowledges the online exam should have been proctored. The Georgia Peace Officer Standards and Training manual requires it, but adherence to the rule had grown relaxed even before the 106th class came along.
Tests will now be administered in a classroom setting.
Before his retirement, McDonough said the investigation was ongoing.
And the issue is unlikely to go away anytime soon. The 133 speeding tickets issued by the troopers from the 106th class are expected to be tossed out by the courts. Could violations cited by previous classes also be in jeopardy if it’s determined that they, too, cheated?
A native Atlantan, Boone joined the AJC staff in 2007. He quickly carved out a niche covering crime stories, assuming the public safety beat in 2014. He's covered some of the biggest trials this decade, from Hemy Neuman to Ross Harris to Chip Olsen, the latter of which was featured on Season 7 of the AJC's award-winning "Breakdown" podcast.