An NBC 5 investigation casts serious doubt on statements made by Dallas County Sheriff Lupe Valdez.
The sheriff suggested 17 cadets at her training academy intentionally flunked a state exam and put the academy at risk of being shut down. Now, NBC 5 Investigates has learned The Texas Commission on Law Enforcement has found nothing to support the sheriff's claim.
Deputy Chris Smith, an instructor at the academy who was there when the recruits failed the test, told NBC 5 Investigates that the suggestion that anyone purposely tanked an exam is ridiculous.
"Not one of those of those cadets that are now deputies went in that room looking to fail that test on purpose. Not one," said Smith. "It's ridiculous to even think that."
After an NBC 5 investigation revealed 75 percent of cadets flunked the state exam on the first try last year, Valdez was summoned to appear in front of county commissioners where she suggested that the recruits failed because they were angry the department might not have jobs for them when they graduated.
Smith admits the cadets were angry because just one hour before the exam two sheriff's department commanders told the class that budget issues may prevent them from immediately moving into deputy positions.
Smith said he gave the recruits a pep talk and reminded them that passing the state exam meant they could get a job with any police department in Texas and that he said the cadets went into the test room determined to do their best.
Smith added that when the cadets found out they flunked the test they were devastated, stayed and studied into the night and passed the exam on their second try the next day.
All of the candidates were hired as Dallas County deputies.
Smith said members of the class he's spoken with are furious with the sheriff's suggestion that they tried to harm her academy.
"What made you think it was OK just to blurt that out without any proof. I mean there's absolutely no proof," said Smith.
The Texas Commission on Law Enforcement told NBC 5 Investigates that it immediately began looking into the sheriff's suggestion of a plot to flunk the exam and found nothing to substantiate the claim. Instead, the commission's analysis of test scores suggests broader problems at the academy including cadets routinely scoring poorly on certain aspects of the test.
NBC 5 Investigates obtained copies of the scores for the last four academy classes. A score of 70 is a passing grade for individual cadets, but in the last four classes the average score on the problem solving and critical thinking portion of the test ranged from just 50 to 60 percent. Three of the last four classes had failing scores on the force options section — which gauges their knowledge of when it's OK to use a weapon.
Recent Dallas County academy classes also had scores averaging below 70 percent in test areas including controlled substances, arrest search and seizure, traffic laws and crisis intervention – mental health code training.
In one recent academy class, the average score on the family code and juvenile justice portion of the test was a mere 36 percent.
The state warns Dallas County needs to get to the bottom of why cadets are doing poorly in some areas or it will close the academy.
"They're at risk. And they have a big, big valley to climb out of," said Kim Vickers, Executive Director of the Texas Commission on Law Enforcement.
Meanwhile, some employees of the department think the sheriff owes the former cadets an apology.
At this time here has been no apology from Valdez and no response from her chief spokesperson. Last week she told NBC 5 Investigates the department has been working with the state to fix the problems, but we now know that didn't start until after we started asking questions.
Emails obtained by NBC 5 Investigates show a top sheriff's department captain was notified the academy was on state probation in November, but the state said it just received a corrective action plan from Dallas County this week.