ATLANTA — The Georgia State Patrol dismissed nearly an entire graduating class, 30 troopers in all, on Wednesday as the state Department of Public Safety Commissioner Col. Mark W. McDonough acknowledged a wide-ranging cheating scandal.
The cheating ring revolved around the exam cadets take to be certified to operate a speed gun, McDonough said. It occurred within the 106th Trooper School, which graduated in August.
"It's a punch in the gut," McDonough said. "It goes to the core of what we do. Speed detection, enforcing the speed limit is one of the core functions of what the patrol has always done."
McDonough said there were four primary allegations investigated, and all were corroborated:
- That everyone in the 106th Trooper School cheated on the speed detection operator exam. All who were interviewed admitted cheating, McDonough said.
- That one cadet helped other cadets with their other online exams.
- That three cadets helped another cadet pass his exam in one instance.
- That a training instructor gave a makeup exam to two cadets who had failed one, and allowed them to take the makeup exam home and bring it back the next day.
"My opinion of the class is it wasn't so hard. It was something you had to pay attention to, but it wasn't rocket science, it wasn't engineering," McDonough said.
According to McDonough, the ring included cadets sharing information on Snapchat and GroupMe and also lining up their stories with one another over the social media platform once an investigation had begun.
An initial allegation against a single trooper, who had apparently given his username and password to a woman he was in a relationship with. The woman who took the tests on behalf of the cadet told GSP about doing so.
"What her motivations were, I'm not quite clear," McDonough said. "But I mean obviously she realized that it was wrong and she came forward."
That led to an investigation that began in October - the single trooper who was caught, McDonough detailed, "said 'well I'm not the only one who cheated, 'I'm not the only one who did this,' and made the allegation that essentially everybody had cheated."
That led to the discovery of the various other cheating instances.
"Our whole mode is to produce an officer that the public can trust. When a person is pulled over, when they're given a speeding citation, they should feel that the training the person received and their performance on the exams to get that certification has been done so without cheating," McDonough said. "And so this goes to our very core values and so it is something that its difficult to swallow."
McDonough explained 33 troopers initially graduated. One other cadet had previously resigned for reasons that weren't disclosed, another had been dismissed previously and the third is on military leave.
He indicated that two cadets, considered the smartest in the class, had failed an online exam, leading to a "panic among the class."
"Two individuals who were very well respected they saw them as smart individuals, quickly took this course online and then failed the exam. There was an element of if these two individuals fail the exam how's it gonna affect us," McDonough said.
He said there had been as many as 133 speeding tickets written by troopers who had not cleanly passed exams to operate speed guns before they were taken off that duty. It's not clear if those tickets will eventually be waived.
McDonough implied, though, there were possibly grounds for them to be vacated, if they were challenged.
"I know what i would do," if given one of those tickets, he said. "And so part of what we will do will be notifying the court systems that those citations are written and the actions we've taken against the officer that wrote them."
McDonough said his first move would be to try and eliminate online instruction in the Trooper School curriculum.
"In this instance our training academy is a resident academy, so my initial reaction is to completely move away from any type of online instruction and then all of our instruction will occur by instructors in the classroom, with what's supposed to be proctored exams," he said. "And so that's kind of my initial reaction and that's kind of the direction that I've gone - away from the element that has occurred into something we have more control over."
This is the full list of the 106th Trooper School:
- Erguens Accilien, Columbia County, Post 21 - Sylvania
- David Allan, Hall County, Post 6 - Gainesville
- Jalin Anderson, Richmond County, Post 33 - Milledgeville
- Erik Austell, Bibb County, Post 15 - Perry
- Evan Bauza, Chatham County, Post 11 - Hinesville
- Logan Beck, Camden County, Post 23 - Brunswick
- Christopher Cates, Rabun County, Post 27 - Blue Ridge
- Seferino Chavez, Clayton County, Post 47 - Forest Park
- Demon Clark, Greene County, Post 17 - Washington
- Christopher Cordell, Catoosa County, Post 5 - Dalton
- Clint Donaldson, Coweta County, Post 49 - Motor Unit
- Eric Guerrero, Coffee County, Post 36 - Douglas
- Jonathan Hayes, Paulding County, Post 29 - Paulding
- Nicholas Hawkins, Walton County, Post 46 - Monroe
- Bradley Hunt, Muscogee County, Post 2 - LaGrange
- Clarence Johnson, Richmond County, Post 25 - Grovetown
- Evan Joyner, Muscogee County, Post 2 - LaGrange
- Richard Justice, Columbia County, Post 25 - Grovetown
- Malcolm Martinez, Cobb County, Post 47 - Forest Park
- Rebecca Moran, Gwinnett County, Post 51 - Gwinnett
- Paul Osuegbu, Barrow County, Post 6 - Gainesville
- Jose Perez, Colquitt County, Post 13 - Tifton
- Patrick Pollett, Columbia County, Post 25 - Grovetown
- Troy Pudder, Houston County, Post 30 - Cordele
- Caleb Pyle, Coweta County, Post 24 - Newnan
- Daysi Ramirez, Houston County, Post 15 - Perry
- Gabriel Rampy, Carroll County, Post 4 - Villa Rica
- Adam Salter, Pike County, Post 26 - Thomaston
- Jerry Slade, Crisp County, Post 30 - Cordele
- Kyle Thompson, Berrien County, Post 36 - Douglas
- James Vaughan, Sumter County, Post 10 - Americus
- Brian Whelehan, Bryan County, Post 23 - Brunswick
- Kelley Whitaker, Miller County, Post 14 - Colquitt