An investigation into possible steroid use by police officers is new territory for both the Richmond County Sheriff’s Office and local GBI agents, but the problem is a national one, reported many times a year.
The Augusta inquiry began when Brandon Paquette, 32, was arrested on charges of steroid possession. He provided the names of possible steroid users in law enforcement. Although the list has not been made public, it has caused an atmosphere of unease at the sheriff’s office.
At least one deputy resigned.
Sheriff Richard Roundtree did not discuss specifics of the case during an interview Wednesday, but said the rumors that there were 30 officers on the list were inaccurate.
“It’s nowhere near that,” he said.
The investigation is now in the hands of the Thomson GBI office, which finds itself in new territory.
“In my time since 1998 this will be the first time that we (the Thomson GBI office) have dealt with a case involving law enforcement and steroid use,” said Special Agent in Charge Pat Morgan.
Steroids in Augusta
The steroid case in Augusta began last week when Richmond County sheriff’s narcotics investigators issued a search warrant at Brandon Paquette’s Pennsylvania Avenue home and discovered 46 vials of anabolic steroids.
For a few days Paquette, 32, provided only empty threats that he could supply names of Richmond County officers who were “juicing up.”
It wasn’t until after his arrest and the arrest of his brother Ryan that he handed over the information which included names of officers back to 2004.
Cameron “Ryan” Paquette, 34, was charged in Columbia County after making threats over the phone that he would bash in the head of Richmond County narcotics Investigator Joel Danko and sexually assault his wife. The Paquette brothers are also the brother of Patrick Paquette, a Greene County narcotics officer who works as a reserve deputy for Richmond County.
The Georgia Bureau of Investigation conducted a polygraph test that supported some of Brandon Paquette’s claims, resulting in the GBI taking over the investigation. The results of the investigation – for which there is no deadline – will be forwarded to District Attorney Ashley Wright to determine if criminal charges could result.
The news has resulted in a lot of speculation and talk, especially through social media.
“That’s what affects this office because no one knows who is potentially affected,” Roundtree said. “Everyone realizes it could be someone they know and no one wants to see any harm come to a friend of theirs. There’s a lot of anxiety in not knowing.”
The sheriff held a command staff meeting Monday to discuss the issue with supervisors who were curious how to handle the issue if a deputy inquired if his name was on the list.
“Our response is if you are part of the investigation you will be notified,” he said.
Deputy Mike Swint, an 11-year veteran of the agency who previously worked as a narcotics investigator for four years, cited the scrutiny through social media in his Tuesday resignation letter.
“I have thought and prayed about this decision very hard and feel it is in the best interest of my family and this agency,” the letter said. “The attention in which has been brought upon both regarding social media is unwarranted and unfortunate. This agency and my family do not deserve to be under this type of scrutiny and although false information has been spread, it has taken a toll.”
Sheriff’s officials did not confirm whether Swint was on Paquette’s list or not.
Steroid abuse has touched law enforcement for years. It’s such a problem that the DEA and the U.S. Department of Justice created a seven-page booklet titled “Steroid Abuse by Law Enforcement Personnel” to help police agencies understand the problem and how to avoid it.
One of the largest cases occurred in New Jersey in 2007 when 248 officers and firefighters from 53 agencies were obtaining fraudulent prescriptions of anabolic steroids from a doctor. According to news accounts, the discovery was made after the doctor’s sudden death.
But smaller cases have occurred throughout the country, including one in Atlanta last year.
Five firefighters and one police officer from Cobb County were included in the investigation. Two of the employees resigned almost immediately.
Earlier this year in Washington state, investigators learned a King’s County sheriff’s deputy had been using steroids and dealing them to others inside and outside of the agency.
The sheriff told news outlets he suspected members of his SWAT team bought steroids, but he would not try to prove it because he needed the 20-man team intact.
No studies have offered estimates on the number of officers who could be using steroids.
Big muscles, like those often seen on SWAT team members, might seem like an advantage, but it comes with a price.
The risk and the toll
Anabolic steroids for performance enhancement are banned in all major sports. In 1990, they were included in the Crime Control Act as a Schedule III drug, making the possession or sale of the drugs without a valid prescription illegal.
Possession of anabolic steroids carried a maximum penalty of one year in prison and a minimum $1,000 fine. The maximum penalty for trafficking is five years in prison and a $250,000 fine. For law enforcement, it’s also a career destroyer.
“If it’s illicit and they’re getting it underground, it’s a violation of almost all their tenets and it could very well be a career buster,” said Dr. Jim Sewell, a retired assistant commissioner of the Florida Department of Law Enforcement. “They could get arrested and lose their POST (Peace Officer Standards and Training certification).”
The problem and the lure of steroids is that they work, said Tim McLane, the senior athletic trainer of Georgia Regents University Sports Medicine.
Those who “juice up” see an increase in lean body mass, strength and aggressiveness. They also are believed to reduce recovery time between workouts, which makes it possible to train harder. For law enforcement, it could give them the edge over dangerous criminals and help them advance quicker in the ranks.
“The reality is that as a profession we have placed such high pressure on maximum shape,” Sewell said. “When you look good in your uniform and have the muscles and all that, it helps you psychologically (in the job).”
Steroids, however, are designed to be used in a limited amount for a limited amount of time under a doctor’s guidance. Illegal use does not fall into that category.
“I don’t know that it’s worth it,” McLane said. “It’s better to do it naturally.”
Overuse can result in such things as acne, increased blood pressure, increased bad cholesterol and lower good cholesterol with an increased risk for heart attack, thickening of the heart and breast or prostate enlargement in men and death.
One of the most commonly discussed side effects is “roid rage,” a Hulk-esque response by those using steroids to normal situations. For officers who work daily in high stress, high adrenaline environments and carry guns, the “rage” can be even more extreme.
A investigation by The (New Jersey) Star-Ledger into officers involved in the 2007 steroid bust found that many of the officers and firefighters who had been linked to steroid use had previously been sued for excessive force or civil rights violations, or had been arrested, fired or suspended for off-duty infractions including assault, domestic abuse, harassment and drug possession.
Agencies who experience steroid abuse often find themselves in the aftermath facing a number of lawsuits from the public who claim they were victims of an officer’s “roid rage.”
Studies show that law enforcement members often feel their departments turn a blind eye to the use of anabolic steroids, and even quasi-encourage it, because of the benefit it could improve the agency.
Sewell experienced the problem in Florida, which the sheriff handled by taking a public stance.
“What it really took – aside from a number of cops getting moved off the force or arrested – was the sheriff saying, ‘This is not how we’re going to get there,’ ” he said. “I think we have to take a strong stand as law enforcement whether it’s steroids or use of cocaine, marijuana or alcohol. The profession can’t tolerate those types of behavior.”
For those in the medical profession, such as McLane, steroid abuse is obvious, but it can be tested officially through a urine sample.
“We generally can tell when it’s happening,” McLane said.
None of the local sheriff’s offices include steroid testing in their random drug tests.
Augusta-Richmond County Risk Management Manager Sandra Wright said it’s not feasible to include steroids into random testing because of the price. A normal random drug test costs $21 through Mullins Laboratory and tests for six drugs. Mullins does not test for steroids, but Wright priced the tests online at $134.99.
All counties can request a test for steroids if there is reasonable suspicion.
It’s happened in Columbia County, but all those tests have returned negative, Capt. Steve Morris said.
Wright said Richmond County has never tested anyone for steroids.
Roundtree said he has no plans to test officers listed by Paquette. And Morgan, of the GBI, said he could not discuss whether urine testing would be included as part of the investigation.
Many departments across the country choose not to test officers for steroids because of the added expense and hassle, a number of sources have said.
Most labs test for anabolic steroids by analyzing the individual’s testosterone to epitestosterone levels. Elevated levels could indicate steroid abuse or could be the result of legitimate medication prescribed by a doctor. There are also hundreds of variations of steroids, so labs usually test against a small number of typical ones.
However difficult, many police departments and sports teams have added the tests to avoid their own public relations challenge.
“It’s easier to detect than it was 10 years ago,” McLane said.