July 9, 2009 in Region

Two troopers under scrutiny quit

They were among 10 officers who drew higher pay after obtaining online degrees
Jeremy Pawloski The Olympian
 

Two of the 10 Washington State Patrol troopers under internal investigation into whether they obtained phony college degrees online have resigned, according to a WSP spokesman.

State Patrol Capt. Jeff DeVere identified the two troopers who resigned in March as James Hotaling, who worked out of Vancouver, and John McMillan, who worked out of Ephrata.

That leaves eight troopers still on paid leave as the patrol continues its investigation of whether the troopers violated any of the patrol’s policies or procedures by obtaining online degrees and using them to obtain a higher pay grade or get promotions, DeVere said.

Under the patrol’s union contract, troopers can obtain a 4 percent pay increase for a bachelor’s degree, and a 2 percent increase for a two-year or master’s degree.

The 10 troopers were placed on leave in October after an internal audit, DeVere said.

The audit was initiated after information came to light about a Spokane diploma mill that offered fraudulent online high school and university degrees for a fee.

Michele Shaw, a Seattle attorney who has represented the 10 troopers, could not be reached for comment Wednesday. Officials at the Washington State Patrol Troopers Association in Olympia also could not be reached.

In February, the Thurston County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office announced it would not file criminal charges against any of the troopers who were investigated for obtaining online degrees. Chief Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Jon Tunheim said at the time that there was insufficient evidence to show the troopers knew the diplomas were from institutions that lacked accreditation.

The troopers have paid back a total of $50,856 in extra money they were paid as a result of the degrees, DeVere confirmed.

DeVere said the patrol’s internal investigation of whether the troopers violated any of the patrol’s policies began in February, after the prosecutor’s office announced the troopers would not face criminal charges. He added that he expects the internal investigation will be completed sometime in August.

The eight troopers on leave will continue to draw a paycheck as they wait for the internal investigation to be completed. DeVere said the investigation is complicated and involves interviews with hundreds of witnesses.

The troopers face potential disciplinary action as a result of the internal investigation, up to and including termination, DeVere said.

DeVere said that if there is a disciplinary action taken, it could affect any future court cases where one of those troopers is called to testify as a witness. Under Washington state law, defense attorneys are entitled to review the disciplinary records of any police officer called to testify in a criminal case and possibly present the matter before a jury, if the disciplinary issue is germane to the police officer’s testimony.


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