Prince George's police won't suspend officers

By Matt Zapotosky
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, October 7, 2010; 8:44 PM

Prince George's County Police Chief Roberto Hylton said Thursday that he will not suspend 32 county officers accused in a cheating scandal during their time in the police academy because an audit has shown that an instructor - not the officers themselves - is to blame for the apparent impropriety.

Records show that on at least 11 tests, all of the students in the class who graduated in July 2009 were recorded as receiving perfect scores. Hylton said Thursday that an audit he ordered last month revealed that the students in the Session 115 class did not all earn perfect scores. An instructor, out of laziness, simply recorded 100s for all of them, he said.

"I actually think it was due to laziness that the instructor did not take the time to fill in the appropriate scores for each officer, but that should not be construed that this was a class who cheated, which is absolutely false," Hylton said. "That was an instructor issue. That was not the class."

Hylton said he did not think the arrests made by the students will be affected because they were not negligent.

Still, questions abound about the legitimacy of the 34 students in Session 115. Thirty-two of them went to work for the Prince George's Department and two went to work for the Maryland-National Capital Park Police. The issue already was raised by a defense attorney in a high-profile murder case Thursday.

Hylton made available four of the test forms and the audit results. Not all of those students received a perfect 100 score, but other irregularities were evident.

For example, on one test - the final exam for arrest procedures - everyone in the class marked the same answer incorrectly for one question, and it was scored as being correct, the audit showed. Maj. Andrew Ellis, a department spokesman, said that was likely because the instructor was teaching the students incorrect information.

On another test - which was technically only two questions, though it required students to fill in several blanks - four students actually failed with a 50 percent, even though they were recorded as receiving a perfect score, the audit showed.

Sgt. Joe Perez, an internal affairs investigator, said that although the four students got a score of only 50, on other tests, they had demonstrated mastery of the subject. Hylton had said at the news conference that everyone passed the tests, though they did not all receive 100 percent.

Hylton confirmed that the instructor "basically provided some answers prior to the administration of the test." But when asked whether the cadets bore some responsibility in not objecting to that behavior, he said, "There was no sinister plot here."

"There was no giving of questions, answers, saying, 'OK, question number one is A, question number two is B,'" he said. "As you can see by the tests that are available, if this was such a review that was basically planned and orchestrated, I would be very surprised why everybody was not getting 100 percent." He said that instructor was fined, but remains in the academy.

Hylton said he would work with the Maryland Police and Correctional Training Commissions, which certify all police officers in the state and inspect police academies to make sure officers are appropriately trained, to audit the files of Session 115 and the two classes that followed it. The commissions could call officers back to class if any serious wrongdoing is uncovered.

Meanwhile, the integrity of the officers in question already is turning up as an issue in court.

Near the end of a double-murder trial Thursday, defense attorney Harry J. Trainor Jr. made a motion seeking to determine whether any officers in the three cadet classes under the testing cloud participated in the investigation of his client, Terris T. Luckett. A judge later determined that none of them was involved in investigating Luckett.

State's Attorney Glenn F. Ivey said Thursday that he will compare the names of the officers to his witness lists and notify defense attorneys in each case where it is appropriate.

Brian Denton, the public defender in Prince George's, said he is working to get the names of the affected officers, and he has serious doubts about the police explanation - that 100s were recorded when they were not earned.

"It creates more questions than it solves," he said.

Staff writer Ruben Castaneda contributed to this report.

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