Pinellas sheriff cadets fired for cheating on exam

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A group of Pinellas County Sheriff's Office recruits who cheated during training are out of work, along with the deputy who helped them, Sheriff Bob Gualtieri said Monday.

Gualtieri said, late last week a supervising deputy noticed one recruit's answers seemed "rehearsed." The agency launched an investigation and, by Friday, it all unraveled.

"It's a terrible situation. It's something, under no circumstances, will we tolerate it," the sheriff said during a news conference. "People who are cheats and liars don't belong working in law enforcement and they're not going to work for the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office. There's nothing that's more important than having the public's confidence and trust."

Gualtieri said the 16-person recruiting class was up to its exam phase of training, which is when potential deputies are tested on the basics of law enforcement and agency policy. The sheriff described the exams as, "not hard."

But, according to investigators, one recruit in particular, Darold Cook, couldn't resist the easy way out.

The sheriff said Cook and current Pinellas Deputy Eric Biddle, who were co-workers in the Pasco County Sheriff's Office, exchanged text messages, which were provided to FOX 13.

In the texts, Cook asked to, "get some of the study material."

Biddle responded by telling Cook he'd give him the actual exam in advance, but added, "please do not share or show the testing stuff... I don't wanna be in an IA," referring to an Internal Affairs investigation.

Gualtieri said Cook offered the exam to several recruits, some of whom turned it down. Six others, however, accepted the material.

"It shows their lack of a moral compass. It shows their lack of ethics. It shows their lack of a sense of right and wrong," the sheriff said. "Being willing to cut corners and that the end justifies the means and they don't have to follow the rules -- well in this profession, you follow the rules."

All told, seven recruits and Biddle were fired.

"They all need to be fired because they're unethical people who have done the wrong thing, and they don't need to be here and they don't need to be working in law enforcement," Gualtieri said.

FOX 13 contacted Biddle and Cook, but did not hear back.

Gualtieri said the Florida Criminal Justice Standards and Training Commission will decide if those involved will have their law enforcement certifications pulled or suspended.