The scandal rocked the Pennsylvania State Police and shocked the state’s sensibilities.
More than 40 cadets, nearly half the 144th class at the State Police Academy, were forced out last year amid allegations of cheating.
But an ABC27 investigation suggests that not everyone accused of cheating during the scandal actually cheated. In fact, the State Police has no written policy on cheating and is struggling to define exactly what it is.
“I’ve lived my life through honesty,” former trooper Kevin Kaplafka said. “To have this slapped in my face, it hurts.”
Kaplafka graduated in the 143rd cadet class, a few months before the infamous 144th. He was working as a trooper in the Lykens barracks when the scandal broke.
“I got called one day to go down and have an interview with Internal Affairs,” Kaplafka said.
Kaplafka thought he was merely going to shed light on what he knew about possible cheating since he was a recent academy graduate. He says he answered questions truthfully and admitted to investigators that he gave junior cadets his study guides. He says he also steered them to specific sections in the 3,000-page criminal justice handbook but insists he never gave them specific answers to specific tests.
“What I told a junior cadet was, ‘You want to study Section 3802.’ That’s the DUI section. Well, 3802 has 24 subsections to it,” he said.
Kaplafka says study guides, note sharing, and study groups were very common and even encouraged at the academy and, in Kaplafka’s view, rightly so.
“You were your brother’s keeper. You were there to help your brother cadets out,” he said.
But it was Kaplafka who needed the help. Investigators accused him of cheating and after several months gave him a choice: resign or be fired.
He wasn’t alone. A few dozen cadets were given the same choice.
“I thought that the cadets deserved more due process before they were released or forced to resign,” said Rep. Joe Petrarca (D-Armstrong/Indiana/Westmoreland), the minority chair of the House Judiciary Committee.
Petrarca met with several of the dismissed and spoke with Kaplafka. He wants a public hearing on the entire scandal and is convinced PSP acted too hastily in removing employees. He sent a letter to the inspector general requesting an investigation into the terminations.
“They’ve all said that what happened in terms of these dismissals was absolutely wrong and it’s a shame that the State Police just wants to turn a blind eye to this,” Petrarca said. “It’s wrong and they’re better than that.”
State police did not respond to repeated requests for comment on this story.
“They want this alleged cheating scandal to go away quietly, and I’ll tell you right now we’re not going away quietly,” said Bruce George, Kaplafka’s attorney and a former state trooper.
George represented Kaplafka in a recent fight with PSP over unemployment. A transcript shows the PSP investigator admitting that the agency has no written policy on study guides or sharing notes or study groups and never recovered the materials that Kaplafka admits giving to cadets.
“In a nutshell, he said he didn’t have any evidence,” George said.
The Unemployment Compensation Review Board ruled in Kaplafka’s favor, concluding that PSP “has simply not carried its burden of proof” that Kaplafka cheated.
“That proved in detail that they were wrong, inaccurate and incorrect,” Kaplafka said.
Though Kaplafka is right, he still feels wronged. It’s a bitter pill for a former U.S. Marine who spent 12 years in the CIA protecting dignitaries in foreign lands. In fact, Kaplafka was an instructor at CIA University before joining the PSP. But probationary troopers and fledgling cadets have little legal protection and are not covered by the union’s collective bargaining. And Kaplafka did sign that resignation letter, albeit under duress.
“The reason I chose to resign is I had a decorated past with a highly regarded agency, maintaining a 12-year Top Secret clearance,” Kaplafka said. “The last thing I want on my background is some allegation that I certainly don’t deserve.”
“Somebody has to come forward and say they made a mistake and remedy it,” said George, who added that Kaplafka is weighing his legal options.
“No one at the academy has been held accountable because none of them lost their livelihood or their pensions or their reputation’s been damaged,” George said. “His reputation was damaged. He lost his livelihood, and I’ll be honest with you. I don’t know where you go to get your reputation back.”
Kaplafka says he wants the accountability that would come with an independent investigation into the entire saga.
“I want the people who made this decision to be held accountable because the troopers on the road don’t deserve to have people like this in control of their future and overseeing them,” he said.