APS Cheating Scandal
First Trial Ends With Acquittal, Others Await Their Day In Court
By D. Aileen Dodd Contributing Writer | 9/13/2013, 6 a.m.
The Fulton District Attorney’s office faced its first major loss in the unprecedented criminal prosecution of educators in the Atlanta Public Schools cheating scandal - a sign that cases that could saddle teachers and administrators with jail time could be crumbling.
Tamara Cotman, a former APS area director who supervised 21 North Atlanta schools, was found not guilty of charges that she used her authority to influence a witness. Cotman was accused of being the mastermind behind memos that instructed principals under her watch to tell GBI investigators searching for clues in the cheating probe in Nov. 2010 to “Go to hell!”
One of those administrators, Jimmye Hawkins, former interim principal of Scott Elementary School, testified during the three-week trial that she feared retaliation if she cooperated with the cheating investigation.
Cotman faced a single felony count of influencing a witness. If convicted, she could have landed in jail for up to five years.
“I feel vindicated,” she said at a news conference following the verdict. She thanked those who supported her since the cheating investigation began three years ago. “I have always said I serve that I serve a God of truth and the truth will set you free. Today, I feel free.”
Cotman’s attorney Benjamin Davis said the prosecution “did a good job,” but lacked the evidence to prove their case against his client. Davis said he would soon be filing a motion to dismiss the racketeering and other remaining charges facing his client. He believes the charges stem from the allegations dismissed by the acquittal.
“Our position is that the charges are the same,” Davis said.
The Cotman victory could spur other defendants awaiting trial in the APS cheating prosecution to fight for vindication instead of making plea deals. Some 35 educators, including former APS Superintendent Beverly Hall, await trail for criminal charges filed against them in connection with accepting bonuses and raises for false standardized test scores manufactured by systematic cheating that dates back to 2005.
Hall’s attorney Richard Deane issued a statement applauding the Cotman acquittal: “We are pleased that this jury listened carefully to the charges and evidence against Ms. Cotman, who has been an educator her entire career, and very properly concluded that she was not guilty of the charges brought against her.”
Deane said that he hopes that the jury that hears Hall’s case “will also listen carefully to the evidence and reach the same result.”
District Attorney Paul Howard said despite the verdict he was pleased with the prosecution of the complicated case. He added that the verdict did not negate the fact that jurors believed there was cheating at APS. “The jurors said to us if the case had only involved cheating, that they would have been able to make a decision in two minutes.”
The Remaining Cases
Prosecutors are moving forward in preparation of the criminal trails remaining against the former APS educators. The next case is set for May 2014. The criminal charges made national news.