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Playing favorites? Cop promoted despite cheating scandal

(WCYB)

Bristol Tennessee City Council members have received notice of the promotion of a police detective to daytime sergeant. But little do they know Dannielle Eller was caught cheating on a promotion test with a high-ranking captain a little more than a year ago.

Top police and city officials refuse to comment. But the investigative file obtained by News 5 through a public records request, shows Eller, who’s won accolades for her detective work, was caught cheating on a promotion test in late 2016.

Records show that although instructed “do not solicit assistance,” Eller got answers from Capt. Charlie Thomas and used them verbatim, several paragraphs on a heavily weighted take home test, trying to get promoted to lieutenant and jolt her career and pay. It was discovered when someone found a computer left open, showing emails between them.

ETSU criminal justice instructor John Rose has no connection to the Bristol police here. But can speak to police ethics.

“You are only as good as your word,” he said.

We asked if a cheater’s testimony in court could be subject to challenge. “Certainly,” Rose said, adding, “I am looking at cases that talk about prosecutors having an obligation to tell the defense side if they are aware of a witness being able to be impeached for their credibility.”

Captain Thomas denied playing favorites but emails show he encouraged Eller writing, “You are learning, young Skywalker.”

“It concerns me,” says State Senator Jon Lundberg, Republican from Bristol. He’s has had his own run-in with city and police command over ethics. That came when an officer got fired for his conduct while ticketing Lundberg’s daughter, fired despite Lundberg’s open objection.

“They said anything that hampers the integrity and the values of the police department was grounds for termination. I think cheating would qualify as an integrity problem,” Lundberg said.

For cheating, Eller was kicked out of line for promotion at that time, and got a letter of reprimand. Captain Thomas was lectured. Also kicked out of the test were three other officers who didn’t copy somebody else’s answers but during questioning, admitted someone either inside or outside the department proofread their tests, which is against the rules.

One officer from the testing group apparently was never questioned but won a promotion.

Eller did not return our call seeking comment. Mayor Jack Young and Vice Mayor Margaret Firerebend told us they were unaware of the cheating. The city charged us $23 to receive a copy of the public record.

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