Cheating scandal leads to firing of 7 deputy recruits

PINELLAS COUNTY, Fla.  (WFLA) – Seven Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office deputy recruits have been fired after cheating on agency exams. In addition, a deputy instructor resigned today in connection with the scandal.

Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri said the deputy recruits were fired after they cheated on the Field Training Program written and oral board exams. They also lied about the cheating, he said.

The investigation began last week when supervisors suspected the recruits may have cheated. Investigators later found copies of the actual exams. Several of the recruits received perfect scores on phase 1 exams and planned to use the exams to cheat on the phase 2 portion.

Investigators also discovered Deputy Eric Biddle gave the exam material to Deputy Darol Cook. Both deputies worked together years ago at the Pasco County Sheriff’s Office and were recently reacquainted through Facebook.

The two exchanged messages. Here are portions of those messages:

Biddle: “Please do not share or show the testing stuff … I don’t wanna be in an IA (Internal Affairs investigation) and kicked out.”

Cook: “Send it to this email(.)  It is the only one I have for now(.)  I will get rid of it and I’ll make sure nobody ever sees it.”

Biddle: “Don’t really wanna send it to a public agency server … I sent the email to your wife with all the material … Just please don’t open it on an agency laptop and or view on an agency email.”

Biddle thought he was only giving Cook the answers. However, Cook, gave them to the other recruits. Their perfect scores on the written exams and apparently memorized answers to the oral exams gave the scheme away.

“All seven admitted to having obtained the actual exams, used them to their advantage, cheated, and in many cases lied about it,” Gualtieri said.

At the Allstate Center at St. Petersburg College they teach the nuts and bolts of law enforcement. Honesty is a prerequisite.

“The ethical nature of the job that you do need to be truthful at all times,” said Charles Crowther, the program chair for the College of Public Safety Administration. “That you need to make sure that you’re doing the right thing no matter what.”

The sheriff echoed a similar sentiment.

“That’s what we do,” Gualtieri said. “To make sure that the rules are followed and we can’t have people doing it that don’t respect the rules.”

The fired recruits include are Cook, Julia Hopkins, Joshua Mason, Thomas McDonnell, Bruce Ramos, Diana Shoemaker and Michael Walker.

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