CLEVELAND, Ohio – Fifteen Cleveland police recruits were fired Friday after an internal investigation found the group cheated during their police academy training.
Cleveland police spokeswoman Sgt. Jennifer Ciaccia confirmed the firings on Monday, reported cleveland.com.
An attorney representing nine of the recruits, Sean Sobel, confirmed the firings. He said in a joint statement with attorney Eric Henry, the accusations of cheating are false.
Fifteen “careers were ruined simply because the City of Cleveland couldn’t bring itself to admit that it made a mistake,” the attorneys’ statement said. “The City committed itself to getting rid of this diverse group of hard-working public servants, even though information came to light that the City’s allegations of cheating were false. Our clients will continue to fight for the privilege to serve the public as police officers and are confident that their names will be cleared at the conclusion of their lawsuit.”
In termination letters to the recruits from Cleveland Safety Director Michael McGrath, they indicate 13 recruits were fired for failing to come forward and admit to cheating or were fired after admitting to cheating.
Another recruit identified as Jonathan Young, was fired for stealing a fellow recruits notes and sharing them with other recruits. Moreover, recruit Erica Johnson was fired for conspiring to hide evidence of cheating and plagiarism and trying to convince a fellow recruit to conceal the same evidence, the letters say.
The cheating accusations are related to notebooks the recruits are required to keep as part of their Ohio Peace Officer Training Academy certification training. The 15 recruits were accused of sharing and copying notes.
The notebooks are inspected, and recruits are required to take detailed notes. As a result, they are judged on content, neatness and formatting.
A lawsuit filed by nine of the 15 says the recruits are encouraged to copy verbatim, wording that is used in class presentations. They are also encouraged to work together and help under-performing recruits, including the sharing of notes, the lawsuit says.
The 66-recruit class began its courses Feb. 5. The investigation began in July, when a recruit “accessed and copied from another student’s electronic notes without permission,” the lawsuit says.
The recruit, who is identified in the lawsuit only as J.Y., later admitted to cheating, the lawsuit says. That recruit then tried to “sabotage” other recruits by sending an academy supervisor an anonymous message that implicated 33 classmates in a larger cheating scandal, according to the lawsuit.
As part of the investigation, police academy supervisors confiscated the 33 recruits’ notebooks.
Subsequently, eighteen of the 33 recruits were cleared and permitted to take the state exam, including some who were cleared “immediately.”
Police officials did not indicate why they were cleared and the others weren’t, the lawsuit says.
The 15 recruits sued the city on the grounds that they believed the investigation wasn’t completed at the time the OPOTA test and should have been allowed to take the test with the investigation pending.
U.S. District Judge James Gwin disagreed and said in his ruling that the city had no jurisdiction over the recruits. City attorneys argued that the state certifies “commanders,” who are in charge of administering OPOTA training.
The OPOTA commander for the Cleveland Police Academy, Sgt. Sean Smith, was acting as a state employee when he barred the recruits from taking the test because he deemed they failed the notebook section of the training.
Fifty recruits took and passed their OPATA licensing exams and were sworn in as police officers on Aug. 24.