Deputy chief denies cheating on college work

Deputy chief denies cheating on college work

June 12th, 2011 by Beth Burger in News

Deputy Chief Ron Parson has been named to oversee the Hamilton County Jail.

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AT A GLANCE

Ronald Ray Parson, deputy chief of the Hamilton County Sheriff's Office

Education: 1967 graduate of Central High School; attended Chattanooga Police Academy

Assignment: Patrol

Previous law enforcement experience:

• 1978-1979: Bradley County Sheriff's Office

• 1979: Hamilton County Sheriff's Office

• November 1979-August 2006: Chattanooga Police Department

• 2006 to present: Hamilton County Sheriff's Office

Military history: U.S. Air Force, 1969-1970

Interests: Auto racing, fishing, boating

Source: Resume in Ron Parson's personnel file

A deputy chief with the Hamilton County Sheriff's Office had a jailer complete a college course for him, then used the credit to maintain his state certification in law enforcement, according to internal reports obtained by the Chattanooga Times Free Press.

No action was taken against Deputy Chief Ron Parson, although he later was suspended for one day for sharing his county computer password with the same jailer, Corrections Deputy Ryan Epperson.

Epperson admitted to internal affairs investigators that he used Parson's password to the sheriff's office intranet to complete Parson's coursework and research. He said he had to conduct additional research to make the page count for Parson's paper, according to an internal affairs interview. The course was held at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga.

Parson, who oversees patrol operations at the sheriff's office, had Epperson complete a research paper and PowerPoint presentation for the course, called Community Policing, Homeland Security and Crime Analysis, according to the investigative report. Epperson said he wrote the research paper, according to the internal affairs report.

Parson and Epperson were suspended for violating department policy on equipment and passwords.

As for allegations he cheated on the course, Parson told an internal affairs investigator, "I did most of the work."

But Parson told Capt. Bill Johnson, "That college asked me to do some things I had never done in my life. ... As far as the research and things like that, I did all of that."

In an interview Friday, Parson adamantly denied any allegations of cheating.

"The only thing he kind of helped me on was [to] format it and show me how to go and find the research. He was in college at one time, and he knows how to do all of that. He never done all my work," Parson said, adding, "I'm telling you as a professional law enforcement officer, that's the honest truth."

When asked why Epperson would admit doing his work, Parson replied, "I don't have a clue."

Hamilton County Sheriff Jim Hammond said it was only an accusation that Parson cheated on his coursework.

"It's quite common to have someone do your research for you. There was no violation. It's done a lot of the time as long as you're not writing the paper for this person. That doesn't seem to have happened in this case. Ron says the guy did some of the research for him," Hammond said.

Although he said there was no proof of cheating, Hammond told members of the Southeast Command and Leadership Academy. The seven-week course run through UTC's Criminal Justice Department and UT's Law Enforcement Innovation Center is for upper-level law enforcement officers in command positions. Hammond said he also notified the state agency that certifies law enforcement officers.

"They saw no grounds to affect his certification in any way," Hammond said.

Three Southeast Command and Leadership Academy staff members were left messages, but none returned calls or emails seeking comment.

Over six months, Epperson also used Parson's password on work computers to watch such television shows as "Memphis Beat," "Cops" and "CSI." And he visited websites such as Facebook, MySpace and YouTube and accessed jail surveillance cameras and Parson's email account, according to sheriff's office Web reports.

UTC work

A UTC spokesman said professors never were notified that Parson had used a jailer to complete the course. University officials also said the sheriff's office never notified them about possible academic misconduct.

"We would need an official notification from either the Hamilton County Sheriff's Department or the state licensing agency before we would do anything at this point. That has not happened," spokesman Chuck Cantrell emailed. "We have had no reports of inappropriate academic behavior by a student participating in [Southeast Command and Leadership Academy] for college credit."

A UTC certificate and a specialized training substitution form dated June 17, 2010, show Parson used the UTC credit for his state certification in law enforcement.

"The issue to cheating - that would be an issue to ask UT-Chattanooga about," said Brian Grisham, executive secretary of Tennessee's Peace Officer Standards and Training Commission. According to its website, the POST Commission enforces state standards and is the primary regulatory body for law enforcement officers.

"It's not unusual for other individuals to help with papers as long as there's proper attribution," Grisham said. "That's an issue for the trainer. ... If we found someone cheating on a test here, we wouldn't allow credit for that training."

Parson never had his credit re-evaluated by the university. And the POST Commission never questioned the validity of his credit even after hearing allegations he cheated.

Samuel Walker, a national expert on police accountability and a professor at the University of Nebraska at Omaha, said the incident needs further examination.

"They're making a mockery of the certification process," Walker said. "How widespread is this? ... That's completely unacceptable."

It also calls into question Parson's credibility as an administrator, Walker said.

"My God, it's terrible. Yes, it's problematic when you have an officer on the street making an arrest" with credibility issues, he said. "But in many respects, it's worse when you have a supervisor over all of those people."

Not to mention, Walker said, that Parson had a subordinate complete his work.

"He cheated. Period. He should flunk the course," Walker said. "If he flunks the course, then he shouldn't be certified. He hasn't, in fact, done the work to be certified."

POST Commission spokesman Christopher Garrett said he spoke with commission employees and discovered that one had learned of the allegations, but no one followed up the information.

"Without UT making a determination that cheating occurred and that his training credit should be affected or without his department strongly disciplining him as a result of it determining he had cheated, the POST Commission would not launch an official investigation," Garrett emailed.

Walker said the state attorney general's office or a legislative committee should look into the matter because it appears state regulations are not being followed.

TBI spokeswoman Kristin Helm said the state agency would not investigate an officer's conduct unless the Hamilton County district attorney requested it.

"The district attorney's office has never received a file from any law enforcement agency to review," said Neal Pinkston, executive assistant district attorney for Hamilton County. "We would not be able to comment on something we have not reviewed."

UTC's Cantrell said much of the training for post-certification hours is attendance-based rather than performance-based.

"While students who participate in SECLA for academic credit are held to a different level of performance, they are responsible for meeting the same academic criteria as any other UTC student," Cantrell said.

"All SECLA students are expected to maintain the integrity of their academic work," according to a statement provided to SECLA students. "Failing to maintain integrity will result in a failing grade and dismissal from the program.

"It is expected that all material submitted as part of any course requirement is the work of the actual student whose name appears on the documents," the statement said. "Students are cautioned against the possession of unauthorized material during an examination or quiz. It is the responsibility of the SECLA staff to review all cases where academic integrity becomes an issue or question."