Investigation clears 32 fired state troopers in cheating scandal

Findings contradict GSP report that led to their dismissal
(Jenni Girtman for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

(Jenni Girtman for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

About 8,000 pages were dedicated to a trooper scandal that actually wasn’t.

The just-completed report by the Peace Officer Standards and Training Council, which oversees the certification of every state and local law enforcement officer in Georgia, has cleared all but one member of the Georgia State Patrol’s 106th trooper class accused of cheating during their training.

The one trooper who was 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. Several months and 1,500 pages were devoted to that report.

Then-Department of Public Safety Commissioner Col. Mark W. McDonough called the findings “a punch in the gut.”

“This goes to our very core values,” he told reporters last February.

Now, those findings have been contradicted by POST. The council’s executive director, Mike Ayers, said the consistency of the cadets’ story was telling. They were steadfast in maintaining they had been cleared to use computers and electronic devices and consult with one another on the test, he said.

Academy staff said the troopers misunderstood; two instructors were decertified after the POST investigation. The 32 fired troopers maintained their certification.

So how did the GSP get it so wrong? McDonough, thrust into early retirement by Gov. Brian Kemp three weeks after the troopers were fired, could not be reached for comment. Kemp, through a spokesman, referred all questions to POST. Current GSP officials also declined comment, citing ongoing litigation

Twenty-eight troopers have filed whistleblower 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 said.

Daniel Cordell, one of the fired cadets, said he believes this was all about the academy saving face. Two members of the 106th class — the class president and a squad leader — had already failed the test, Cordell said, and it would have been embarrassing to the instructors if the rest didn’t pass.

It is as-yet unknown whether the GSP will offer the troopers their jobs back, but their absence was glaring in an already understaffed, graying state agency.

Cordell, 32, said he isn’t sure if he’d accept such an offer.

“I’m still praying about it,” he told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution Friday.

His dismissal made landing another job difficult, said Cordell, who, after several months, was finally hired 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 de-certification seriously.

“Had there been an issue of a violation of their integrity then we would’ve taken their certification,” he told Channel 2 Action News. “We decertify more officers in this state than any other state in the nation.”