x
Breaking News
More () »

WZDX

'Hey, it's OK if we do this': Inside the Georgia State Patrol cheating scandal investigative file

Records from the investigation show how test anxiety ended more than 30 troopers' careers and cost the state millions

FORSYTH, Ga. — The cheating scandal that cost the Georgia State Patrol an entire class of 33 new troopers apparently started with three words: "Use your resources."

Some cadets took the phrase as permission to Google answers, share questions by text message, or help each other as they took the online test together.

One instructor at the training academy initially said he never used those words, then later said he didn't know. 

If he did say it, Trooper First Class Stewart Parker finally said, he didn't mean the cadets should cheat.

But apparently, none of the troopers ever asked Parker what he meant.

The Georgia Department of Public Safety last week released thousands of pages of documents related to the cheating scandal, including its 2,491-page investigative file.

It includes dozens of interviews with the former troopers and instructors at the training school, as investigators tried to understand what went wrong and why.

The interviews also show how several troopers based at Central Georgia posts played key roles in the scandal:

  • Jerry "JD" Slade of Crisp County was president of the 106th Class and considered one of the "more intelligent" members. When he failed a radar-detector test, it set off alarms among both the staff and classmates.
  • Daysi Ramirez of Houston County was the first to tell investigators the whole story: "Everybody in the class got help from each other."
  • And Jalin Anderson, who was based at the Milledgeville post, was one of those who thought instructors gave cadets the go-ahead to work together: "I didn't really consider it cheating.... It was one of those things where we just try to help each other out so no one will fail."

RELATED: 'That is difficult to swallow': 30 Georgia State Patrol troopers fired in cheating scandal

THE HONOR SYSTEM

Georgia State Patrol trains its new troopers through a nine-month long academy, based at the state's Public Safety Training Center in Forsyth. 

Candidates go through physical training, learn Georgia law and get practical experience in policing skills like firearms, arrests and traffic stops.

But the cheating scandal revolved around a single test, which covered speed enforcement and the use of radar guns.

Last month, Col. Mark W. McDonough, head of the Georgia Department of Public Safety, said, "It wasn't so hard. It was something you had to pay attention to, but it wasn't rocket science, it wasn't engineering."

The state requires that all law-enforcement officers be certified in operating the speed gun, but it's the only test that the new troopers took that wasn't given in a classroom.

The cadets were assigned to take an online course on speed enforcement, then take the online test on their own time -- essentially, on the honor system.

Some troopers said that's one reason they didn't take the course and the test all that seriously.

Erik Austell, who was fired after five months at the Perry post, said, "It being given in our rooms at our own time kinda made me feel like, if we had to reach out to another cadet, we could do so."

But when instructors told the 106th Class that they had two weeks to complete the online course and pass the test, two cadets got to work that very night.

'DON'T LET ANYONE ELSE FAIL'

Class President J.D Slade and a second cadet, Erguens Accilien, completed the online course that night and took the test immediately. Both failed.

Slade says he moved quickly that night through the various radar-training sections and the quizzes on each.

"And I went five for five, five for five for almost all of them. Then I get to the test and ahead and was like, 'Well I remember the stuff that I took on the quiz. I'm just gonna go ahead and do the final exam.' I did the final exam. I got a 56."

Parker, the head of the academy speed-detection training, said he wasn't surprised: "They took the freakin' test that night and failed it, which is understandable, they rushed through it."

Another instructor said he and Parker "thought it was crazy" that the two took the course and test in one night.

And under the rules, Parker said, they weren't allowed to retake the test.

"So my adrenaline went up and I was like.. I'm scared," said Slade. "I failed out of trooper school because they don't have a retake.... I honestly blocked out anything else."

Apparently, the academy supervisors were scared, too. They announced to the cadet class that two of their peers had failed the radar test and warned them to take the test seriously.

According to the state patrol's case summary, at least two troopers said Stewart Parker said this: "Y'all have your (computers) in your room and y'all have each other... use your resources....Don't let anybody else fail."

When investigators talked to him, Parker initially denied using those words. 

PARKER: "No, I mean I wouldn't... I don't recall tellin' them to use -- use their resources or anything like that."

ELLIS: "So.. you're saying you did not say those words to any of them, any of the cadets?"

PARKER: "Use the resources? No sir."

Later Parker added."I don't -- I mean, I don't recall sayin' 'Use your resources.' Did I say it? I don't -- I don't know, I don't think so, uh, but no, yes, I would not imply any way of cheating."

But cadets drew their own conclusions: 

Austell said, "I do remember one of the instructors saying, 'You know, kinda use your resources.... You know, and we kinda, you know, knew what that meant."

Troy Pudder, later assigned to the Cordele branch, told investigators, "I wanted to have a good grade, I'm worried because these other guys have already failed the test and you know, for what I know, these guys aren't stupid."

'HE GAVE ME THE ANSWERS'

The academy's leaders changed their minds and decided to give Slade and Accillien a written makeup exam -- in violation of state rules for the radar test. They could take the test in their dorm rooms.

On his second chance, Slade asked for help from cadet Richard Justice, who had already taken the test for a previous law-enforcement job.

Slade said, "If I didn't have a clue on what to look up, I would just ask Justice if he knew what it meant and stuff like that just to see if he could help me so I didn't flunk out of trooper school."

Justice admitted that, saying he "helped other classmates go through their modules and their test and help 'em, basically give -- guide 'em to the right answer, um, to pass it."

Meanwhile, the rest of the class got started on their online speed-detection course and the online test. Many of them leaned on Justice as well.

Anderson said, "There was a group of us that kinda sat down on the balcony and all took the test together. We asked Trooper Justice to help us take the test and we kinda sat outside the room and he helped me take the test. 

"Trooper Justice was beside me givin' me the answers... So I took the test, but he gave me the answers," Anderson said.

"A lot of them he explained why the answer was what it was and whatever... but... I'm pretty sure he helped the majority of us take it."

He said, "The training staff didn't say, 'Hey do this on your own.' They just said, 'Hey, get this done.' So I guess that was my perception and probably the majority of the guys' perception."

Investigators say the cadets Googled subjects, shared screenshots of questions through a group chat and even provided answers for each other.

Austell, one of the troopers who admitted gettng help, told the investigators he still felt he'd done nothing wrong: "If I thought it was cheating or anything like that, I wouldn't have done it."

The 106th Trooper School and its 33 members graduated on Aug. 16, and class president Slade addressed his classmates.

"It was an honor to go through this tough challenge of life together and I wish you all the best in your careers wherever it may lead you," he told the group. "We're right where we need to be."

'I THINK SHE TOLD ON ME'

After graduation, the new troopers spread out to posts around the state: Anderson to Milledgevile, Austell and Ramirez to Perry, Slade and Pudder to Cordele.

But less than two months later, the state patrol got an anonymous complaint about Demon Clark, a new trooper assigned to the post in the city of Washington.

After investigators contacted him, Clark reached out to a couple friends in the 106th class, including Daysi Ramirez.

She said, "And that's when he told me that he had someone take it for him."

"He didn't tell me the girls's name," she said. "He just, "I think she told on me." That the person that took the exam was female and she might have told."

Ramirez said she told Clark, "Well you weren't the only one who cheated. 'Cause from what I'm hearing with my roommates, they had somebody take the test for them, too.

"I was like, "Everybody in the class got help from each other."

A second trooper told Clark to tell investigators that the class "had been told to cheat."

The state patrol fired Clark in October and began interviewing the rest of the class. Between Oct. 25 and mid-December, investigators interviewed more than 40 people -- both the trooper cadets and staff members at the academy, like Stewart Parker.

According to transcripts, Jason Ellis and Nathan Roberts usually began with a statement describing the complaint against Clark and explaining that he'd accused the rest of the class.

The troopers were reminded that they went through ethical training at the academy and anyone who lied during an investigation faced firing.

Gradually questions turned to what the troopers had done and why.

SLADE: So... I understood it was an open book test.

ELLIS: So when you Google information or used the notes off your computer and when Justice assististed you with that test, did that feel wrong?

SLADE: No sir.... I thought... It's just an open book test. If you had the notes available, I didn't see the issue with it.

ELLIS: How do you know it was open book?

SLADE: Well, I assumed it was open book.

-------------------------------

ELLIS: Am I to understand that what you're telling me is .. yes, you cheated on the test?

RAMIREZ: Uh, It is cheating at the end of the day.... Getting assistance from somebody else who's already taken the exam, like I said, we were just told to use our resources."

ELLIS:: Was it your understanding and your perception.. that Parker told you to cheat? Was that your perception?

RAMIREZ Kinda..... Yes. I would say yes.

-------------------------------

PUDDER: From what I believe, and I mean, looking back now, it was probably something that we took from the mouth of the instructors and someone not misinterpreted but maybe twisted it into believing, 'Hey, it's OK if we do this.'"

ELLIS: A good word for that to me would be rationalized.

-------------------------------

And eventually, the talks came around to Come-to-Jesus sessions, where the investigators pleaded with troopers to admit they were wrong.

ELLIS: If you knew it was wrong I'm asking you, JD, just say it. Because it's the best outcome that anybody could hope for is to just tell the truth.... I don't wanna see anybody havin' be polygraphed.

SLADE: I've always prided myself on I've always done the right thing when I was a little kid. If I seriously thought it wasn't the right thing, I would have have never done it. Cause it risks putting' you in this position right here.:"

'THAT'S CALLED CONSPIRACY' 

The investigators praised several troopers -- including Ramirez, Pudder and Anderson -- for their candor in quickly admitted that they'd cheated.

Some other troopers circled the wagons.

Investigators said one "core group" of troopers used a Snapchat group chat to compare notes on the investigation and to conspire.

According to the report, one wrote, "Let's all come to an agreement now! We all took our own tests and Clarke is a dumbass."

Another wrote, "I like Johnson's idea, it's not lying if you don't remember."

And that seemed to appall investigator Ellis:

ELLIS:  I guess it's that page -- this right here that concerns me.

SLADE: That one?

ELLIS: Uh, yeah. 'Let's all come to..."

SLADE: Yes sir

ELLIS: An agreement now. We all took our own test," and of course, the rest of it. And then.. .in another realm, this is...

SLADE: Yes sir

ELLIS: This.. this is bad.

SLADE: Yes sir

ELLIS: It's... it's conspiracy. is what it's called in the criminal investigative world. You know, if you work a criminal case and you have two or more...

SLADE: Yes sir

ELLIS: you got more than two people talking... two or more folks....

SLADE: Yes sir

ELLIS: Planning... that's called conspiracy.

SLADE: Yes sir

'A PUNCH IN THE GUT'

The state patrol's investigative report, filed in January, concluded that all of the allegations made by Demon Clark were true.

On Jan. 29, Georgia Department of Public Safety Commissioner McDonough announced that the entire class was fired.

He called the news "a punch in the gut."

About two weeks later, McDonough himself resigned, reportedly forced out by Gov. Brian Kemp.

MORE INFO: Georgia Public Safety commissioner, deputy commissioner resign in wake of trooper cheating scandal

State officials say the scandal set the short-staffed agency back months in its recruiting and hiring.

They say the scandals likely cost the state $2 million or more -- the cost of training the cadets for nine months.

RELATED: Georgia State Patrol cheating scandal cost state nearly $2 million, agency says

On Wednesday, the state patrol told 13WMAZ that no staff members at the academy had been disciplined in connection with the cheating scandal.

EXTRA INFO: Prosecutors to dismiss tickets issued by fired state troopers

STAY ALERT | Download our FREE app now to receive breaking news and weather alerts. You can find the app on the Apple Store and Google Play.

STAY UPDATED | Click here to subscribe to our Midday Minute newsletter and receive the latest headlines and information in your inbox every day.

Have a news tip? Email news@13wmaz.com, or visit our Facebook page.