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Lawsuit details allegations of cheating at Prince George's police academy

By Matt Zapotosky
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, October 14, 2010; 10:27 PM

In mid-June 2009, a Prince George's County police academy instructor gave his students several required tests and told them, "We're going to do this Enron style," a former student says. Then, question by question, the instructor allegedly gave the cadets the answers.

The student, Steven LaPier, filed a lawsuit in federal court Thursday seeking $1.5 million and alleging that he was dismissed from the class because he was outspoken about the impropriety. In an interview, LaPier said that he went along with the cheating but that he immediately raised concerns with a commander outside the training staff.

"I was extremely uncomfortable," he said. "If I didn't start writing the answers down, I would have been picked out and told to do push-ups."

About the same time, LaPier was dismissed from the class for medical reasons. But his allegations, which he eventually sent to Chief Roberto L. Hylton in a letter, were the spark for what is now an internal-affairs audit of his academy class, known as Session 115, and the two that followed, sessions 116 and 117.

A police spokesman referred questions about LaPier's lawsuit to the county. James Keary, a county spokesman, declined to comment because of the pending litigation.

Records show that on at least 11 tests, perfect scores were recorded for all of the students in Session 115, which graduated in July 2009. Thirty-four students eventually graduated in that class. Thirty-two went to work for Prince George's police, and two went to work for the Maryland-National Capital Park Police.

In public statements, Hylton has denied that any student cheating occurred, and he has blamed the problems on one instructor, who he said lazily recorded perfect scores for students who did not necessarily earn them.

But Hylton has also acknowledged that an instructor "basically provided some answers prior to the administration of the test." The instructor, Brian Fowble, has been fined, and he was transferred out of the academy last week. He denies wrongdoing.

Other instructors did questionable things, LaPier said. One instructor read all the test questions aloud and permitted students to discuss the answers openly, he said. Others would allow students to grade one another's tests and mark wrong answers as being correct, he said.

LaPier, 40, said cheating was among a number of problems he raised with academy officials and with Maj. David Morris, a friend who was then a district station commander. LaPier said he complained, for instance, that for a few weeks, male and female cadets had to change clothes together in the parking lot outside the academy. Months after LaPier was dismissed, Morris took over as commander of training and raised several concerns about Session 115 in memos to his bosses.

LaPier sent a letter to Hylton outlining the allegations June 19, a day after he was told that he would be removed from the class, according to his lawsuit. He had fainted during a routine training run, and the county's medical board declared him unfit for duty, the lawsuit says. LaPier's attorney, John Singleton, said that LaPier suffered only from nosebleeds and anemia and that two doctors cleared him for duty.

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