WATCH: 25 Cops Caught Cheating on a Promotional Exam – Nobody Fired – Some Still Got Promoted

Investigator Robert Cornett, right, a Riverside County sheriff’s department employee who was implicated in the 2015 cheating scandal, poses with Sheriff Stan Sniff while being promoted to the position of master investigator in November 2016

RIVERSIDE, Calif. – It was the fourth time that the deputy had taken the highly competitive investigator exam, and most likely, the fourth time she had failed. After 12 years on the bottom rung of the sheriff’s department, the coveted promotion from deputy to investigator – which meant more money, more respect and more important work – remained tantalizingly out of her reach.

But the deputy did not plan on giving up. When the exam was over, she rushed back to her desk and began typing out the test questions, anxious to make a new study guide while her memory was still fresh. The deputy racked her brain, trying to remember every question exactly as it had been asked.

Soon, there was a veteran cop peeking over her shoulder, asking for a copy. The deputy knew she wasn’t supposed to discuss the exam with anyone – test-takers were ordered to keep the questions confidential – but this guy was already an investigator. He had been with the department for two decades, and the deputy saw him as the kind of cop she wanted to be someday. What was the harm of letting him peek?

She printed out the questions and left them face-up on his desk.

“I should have grabbed the paper, but I didn’t. I left it with him,” the deputy said two days later, stuck in an interview room on the wrong side of an internal affairs investigation. Leaked exam questions had spread through the sheriff’s department like a virus. She was patient zero.

“Did he tell you what he was going to do with the questions?” an internal affairs investigator asked.

“I didn’t ask,” the deputy responded, adding later: “But I should have grabbed my frickin’ questions back.”

Two and a half years ago, an internal investigation at the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department uncovered that 25 employees attempted to cheat their way to a higher rank by sharing questions and answers from what was supposed to be a confidential promotional exam, according to a Desert Sun review of agency documents and more than 15 hours of interview recordings obtained by the newspaper. The cheating was believed to be so widespread that the sheriff’s department voided the test, requiring more than 200 employees to retake a portion of the 2015 investigator exam.

This cheating scandal, revealed to the public for the first time in this article, should be concerning for at least two reasons. First, the possibility of broad and longstanding cheating calls into question if the most qualified deputies are promoted into the position of investigator, where they take responsibility for solving complex crimes like murders and rapes. Second, the scandal casts a lasting shadow on the police officers’ integrity and qualifications, which could be used to attack their credibility in the courtroom, making them less useful as witnesses and therefore less effective at convicting criminals.

The documents and recordings obtained by The Desert Sun come from an internal, confidential investigation that is barely known outside of the sheriff’s department. California’s laws on police privacy are so restrictive the basic details of the investigation are kept secret, not just from the public, but also from the District Attorney’s Office, which depends on the police officers to testify in court. Scandals like this one would be disclosed to prosecutors only after they introduce one of these deputies as a witness, meaning they might build an entire case on the testimony of a deputy whose integrity could crumble during cross-examination.

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