Cheating Admission Raises More Doubts

By Tom Jackman
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, February 13, 2009

After Fairfax County police officials learned last week that questions on the upcoming promotional exam had been leaked, an officer stepped forward and admitted that he had cheated on the last exam, given in 2006, casting a cloud over the 30 officers promoted to sergeant in the past three years, according to law enforcement sources.

The officer, Sgt. Eric P. Leeds, 36, formerly a supervisor in the Fair Oaks District Station, has been placed on administrative duty, and police have expanded their investigation into the 2006 exam, the sources said. Sgt. Keela M. Lowry and Lt. Susan Lamar have been suspended with pay after Lowry, a member of the test committee, leaked questions on the upcoming exam to Lamar, the sources said.

Lamar, 44, an assistant commander in the organized crime-narcotics unit, has submitted her resignation but it has not yet been accepted, sources said. Lowry, 39, who in 2006 became the first black female supervisor in Fairfax police history, has been placed on administrative leave with pay. Leeds did not respond to e-mail and phone messages yesterday seeking comment. Lowry and Lamar have declined to comment.

Mary Ann Jennings, the Fairfax police spokeswoman, said the investigation has just begun, and police do not know how many people may have cheated among the estimated 150 who took the 2006 sergeant's exam. She said she could not speculate on what penalties might be imposed on anyone caught cheating because the facts of each officer's case have not yet been developed.

In an e-mail to his department on Tuesday, Police Chief David M. Rohrer wrote that investigators learned of the leak Feb. 4 and that "test materials had been inappropriately compromised and 'leaked.' " The investigation was launched after Lamar offered test questions to an officer, who then reported her, sources said.

At some point after the internal investigation began, Leeds made his admission about receiving improper help before taking the 2006 exam, sources said. In March 2006, Leeds and Lowry were in the first group of officers promoted to sergeant from that exam, which resulted in a ranked "sergeant's list" of candidates for promotion that is still in effect today. The sergeant's exam is given every three years.

One police official said the investigation into the 2006 test was begun even before Leeds came forward. Officer Marshall Thielen, head of the Fairfax police officers' union, asked Rohrer to revisit that test, to clear any suspicion about those who passed it without cheating and to help those who might otherwise have been promoted.

Also promoted in that March 2006 group was Weiss Rasool, who later worked at the McLean District Station, where Lamar was then assistant commander. In January 2008, Rasool pleaded guilty in federal court to illegally using police computers in 2005 to check license plate numbers for a friend, though he said he did not know the friend was under federal surveillance and the vehicles checked were being used by federal agents in a terrorism case.

A month later, while Rasool was awaiting sentencing, Lamar wrote a letter to a federal magistrate judge on his behalf. "I have 23 years in law enforcement," Lamar wrote, "and a great deal of experience in investigating and interviewing bad people. Weiss is not one of those people. He is a good officer who used poor judgment many years ago."

Rasool was placed on two years' probation and later resigned from the department. Lamar's letter did not endear her to her commanders, sources said.

Police suspect that Lamar may have assisted Lowry or others in 2006 and plan to investigate further, sources said. But if Lamar resigns from the department, she cannot be compelled to cooperate with the investigation, as active police employees must.

The pool of officers taking the sergeant's exam has dwindled in recent years because new sergeants must move to new stations, often take midnight shifts and sometimes give up their take-home vehicles.

© 2009 The Washington Post Company