As a pro football player, Cedric Tillman used steroidlike supplements in the locker room.
But the first time he ever tested positive for a performance-enhancing drug, he lost a different job – as a Phoenix police officer.
The former Arizona Rattlers wide receiver appealed his firing this year and on Thursday was given a five-day suspension instead of termination because of questions surrounding the legally purchased drugs he blamed for a false-positive test.
Through the appeal process, lawyers raised concerns about how the Phoenix Police Department tests its officers for strength-building supplements sold online and in nutrition stores. In many cases, products are advertised as legal anabolic steroids. The department tests for a chemical reaction rather than specific supplements.
Police Chief Jack Harris defended the department’s steroid policy as a clear, zero-tolerance approach to cutting performance-enhancing drugs out of its ranks. Officers have been educated since 2004 on the potentially dangerous side effects of steroid use, including major psychological conditions that could adversely impact residents on the street.
Tillman, 40, is the second officer to earn his job back this year after testing positive for Nandrolone, an anabolic steroid popular with athletes. He and another officer who earned his job back in March claimed they were unaware supplements that they purchased legally could metabolize into an illegal substance such as Nandrolone or lead to a positive test.
Harris said he was disappointed with the decisions made by the Phoenix Civil Service Board, the citizens panel that voted to reinstate both officers. Tillman had tested “off the charts,” or nearly 90 times the police department’s allowable limit for Nandrolone, due to squirting a steroidlike liquid under his tongue with a syringe, investigators said.
Any trace of an illegal substance such as Nandrolone, Harris said, is sufficient evidence to uphold an officer’s termination. He disagreed that the department policy would need to be changed, though officers could be retrained to avoid similar appeals.
“I am completely confident that if that was any other dangerous drug other than steroids, they would have upheld the firing because with steroids, they don’t seem to hold that as a dangerous drug,” Harris said. “I don’t understand their decision. I don’t want officers to think it’s OK to take steroids and endanger their own lives.”
Tillman declined comment through Phoenix Law Enforcement Association, which has cautioned rank-and-file officers to beware of legally purchased supplements and urged a more specific policy similar to the NFL’s, which lists banned substances by name.
Attorneys and Civil Service Board members cited the investigation into Phoenix Officer Carl Ramirez as a factor in their decision to reinstate Tillman. Ramirez appealed his 2008 termination, also citing store-bought supplements as a reason for his positive urine test. In March, he received a 30-day suspension and returned to his job on a Cactus Park Precinct neighborhood-enforcement team.
Tillman denied using anything illegal but admitted buying supplements labeled as “the closest you can get” to legally taking anabolic steroids.