June 17, 2011 in City

Troopers show degrees of dishonesty

By The Spokesman-Review

When Washington State Patrol Trooper Daniel Mann talks about his days at Berkley – if he ever does – it’s probably nothing like you imagine.

No free-speech protests or sit-ins. No dropping acid and sitting in a tree. No examination of the great pinko texts. Or any texts. Not to mention no lectures, no quizzes, no classes.

Mann’s “Berkley” experience involved a single 11-page paper written in the fall of 1998, titled “Drugs Should Not Be Legalized.” This was his “final” paper, as well as his “initial” paper, as well as his “only” paper. He sent a couple grand to the “University of Berkley” in Michigan and waited for his diploma to show up.

Then he started collecting a bigger paycheck for his educational advancements.

Nothing wrong with that, right?

Well, that depends. The information above comes from the scathing conclusions of an investigation into Mann’s actions in 2009, in which Assistant Chief James Lever recommends his firing.

“I believe Mann knowingly submitted a phony academic degree from the University of Berkley to the WSP for increased pay and promotional points,” Lever wrote. “This act clearly constitutes a violation of the rules, regulations and policies of the WSP. … It is simply not reasonable to believe that he did not realize that a Berkley degree was not legitimate. He knew what he was doing was wrong and the facts of the case clearly demonstrate continued attempts to both cover up and prevent any scrutiny of his actions.”

But the State Patrol, after moving initially to fire Mann and several others, chickened out and gave them suspensions of several days. This followed the 10-month paid vacation while they were being investigated. Washington State Patrol spokesman Bob Calkins said the discipline was based on the notion that the troopers had used bad judgment, not intentionally defrauded the state. They stopped receiving the extra pay and repaid more than $50,000 – Mann alone repaid nearly $12,000.

The next move for the Diploma Mill Gang was obvious: Sue the state.

The suit – call it Chutzpah v. Common Decency – was filed in King County Superior Court in December by Mann and four other troopers. They allege that the State Patrol defamed them in some public statements – as well as in some of the minor misunderstandings the patrol didn’t clear up. It takes a lot of huevos to do what Mann did and then sue the state alleging, among other things, “outrage.”

The investigation into the diplomas followed the news in May 2008 that dozens of government employees had purchased counterfeit degrees from a Spokane diploma mill. While the five troopers didn’t buy their diplomas from the Spokane operation, they purchased them from unaccredited online “institutions” that award diplomas based on life experience.

A prosecutor said no crime was committed, but Lever’s report identified three “proven” violations of the patrol’s codes of conduct and ethics. And what the patrol said about Mann publicly is nice and friendly compared to the report. A few examples:

• “It is a proven fact that University of Berkley is a diploma mill. Mann had every obligation to recognize what he was representing as a college degree was indeed a fake and invalid by any reasonable measure.”

• “Despite never having taken a class, read a book, or taken a test, Mann argued that he believed his degree was legitimate. It is absurd to believe that an 11-page research paper could be evaluated and graded to determine a person’s qualification to receive a four-year degree. It would not even be credible for a single upper division college course (one quarter) to simply require a single 11-page research paper without any additional reading, lectures, tests, or additional assignments.”

• “Mann’s deceptive behavior demonstrates the clear intent to mislead and deceive the department.”

• “One primary function of a narcotics detective, that Mann performed for several years, is to constantly test information to determine reliability and credibility of information they receive. For me to believe Mann was completely duped by an Internet website is simply too much to ask.”

• “Mann’s dishonest and unethical actions can simply not be tolerated.”

Of course, they have been tolerated. The State Patrol still issues a paycheck to Mann, who catches drunken drivers here in Spokane.

I feel a personal connection to Mann’s educational experiences, because of my own. I dropped out of college my first go-round, then went back to Eastern Washington University as an adult with a full-time job. It took a lot of work and cost a lot of money, and I’m glad I did it. I didn’t get a raise or anything, but it was invaluable.

Maybe that’s something you have to experience to appreciate.

“It appears to the reviewer that Mann questions the real value of a legitimate bachelor’s degree and therefore felt he deserved the same reward as those who actually went to school and earned a degree,” the report says. “Had Mann actually gone to school, studied, and learned his way toward a four-year degree, I believe he would have a completely different perspective.”

Shawn Vestal can be reached at (509) 459-5431 or shawnv@ spokesman.com. Follow him on Twitter at @vestal13.

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