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State says Union Co. Sheriff broke terms of deal struck after cheating scandal, could lose badge

A lawyer representing Sheriff Billy Breeding and his chief deputy said the pair did not violate the agreement.

MAYNARDVILLE, Tenn. — A state commission said the Union County Sheriff broke the terms of the deal he struck last year after admitting he knew his deputies were using an answer key to cheat on a state-mandated training test. 

The Tennessee Peace Officers Standards and Training Commission (POST) could revoke Sheriff Billy Breeding's certification at a hearing in May, which would make him ineligible to serve as sheriff. 

In documents obtained by 10News through a public records request, the state said Breeding allowed his chief deputy to serve as a law enforcement officer during a mandated suspension and failed to work with another county to modernize its training program, in violation of a prior agreement.

Attorney Richard Gaines said Breeding and Chief Deputy Brian Smith "did not violate the agreed order" and "are in full compliance." He said he believed the hearing would bear that out. 

Gaines said Smith worked in an administrative role during the suspension but did not act as an officer. He said the department asked other agencies about their training programs, named a new training officer and adapted a new video training course. 

The agreed order with POST dates to last June, when Breeding and Smith acknowledged deputies within the department received taxpayer money after cheating on a state-mandated in-service training test.

POST found Breeding knew officers used an "answer key" to complete the test. Chief Deputy Brian Smith admitted to resetting the test when deputies did not get questions right, a 2020 report from the Tennessee Comptroller's Office said. 

When initially questioned by POST, Breeding and Smith denied providing an answer key to officers. However, they did share that a "study guide" was used for the Virtual Academy training course. 

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"The study guide consisted of the Virtual Academy assessment questions and related multiple-choice answers. They agreed that the study guide is likely how the answer key was developed," the comptroller report said. 

After continued questioning during the comptroller's review, Breeding admitted he knew about the answer key, the comptroller said.

The online video training provider said most officers take between 5 and 10 minutes to complete an assessment after watching a training video. Analysis of 2017 and 2018 training showed Sheriff Billy Breeding and most of his deputies finished the test in less than 60 seconds.

Breeding remains on probation for the cheating scandal. His chief deputy was eligible to return to work on December 1. The POST meeting is scheduled for May 20. 

"I think we’re going to see a pretty harsh ruling from POST," said T. Scott Jones, a defense attorney. If the commission revoked Breeding's certification, he would not be eligible to continue as sheriff. In that scenario, "we would be looking at an interim sheriff and we would be looking at the great taxpayer expense of a special election." 

Breeding is running for re-election in August, according to the county election commission. 

He also faces an inquiry by the Fourth District Attorney General into an alleged tryst with a female deputy. The investigation follows inquiries by WBIR in late February about whether a Maynardville police officer saw Breeding having sex with a female subordinate earlier this year in his car.

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