Trial set for ex-APS official allegedly tied to cheating scandal

by: Carl Willis Updated:


ATLANTA - A former executive director with Atlanta Public Schools is set to go to trial in August for influencing a witness related to a widespread cheating scandal.

The trial will be separate from the cheating scandal case where 35 educators are accused of conspiracy to cheat standardized tests. Former regional supervisor for SRT 4 Tamara Cotman was indicted in that case as well.

Before the conspiracy case is tried, Cotman will go to trial for using fear, intimidation and a demotion to influence Jimmye Hawkins, who was interim principal of Scott Elementary School.

Hawkins said she was demoted after what's been called the "Go to Hell" meeting Cotman held for area principals.

"Ms. Cotman was allegedly passing out preprinted notepads that they could sign and tell the GBI, the investigators to go to hell," said Hawkins' attorney George Shingler.

Shingler told Channel 2's Carl Willis his client was demoted because Cotman and others believed Hawkins reported the meeting to investigators.

"She felt like she was being targeted at that point, called out to meet with Ms. Cotman and being demoted," said Shingler.

Willis obtained court records Thursday that show the state intends to use "prior bad acts" to prove their case.

Those bad acts include evidence from APS employees who claim they were threatened with termination, reassigned and harassed by Cotman.

"I think it's the realization that they have no case against Ms. Cotman," said Cotman's attorney Benjamin Davis. "Some of these 'bad acts' are primarily from some disgruntled employees, one of which no longer even works with APS."

Some of the statements were made by parents who claim Cotman allegedly told them to keep quiet when they asked about students being given test answers.

"Just because you may believe a person is a bully, or not a nice person, doesn't mean they committed any criminal act," said Davis.

The state intends to show incidents prove intent and that the "Go to Hell" meeting was no joke or accident.

"I do not believe there was any specific instruction 'do not talk to the GBI,'" said Shingler. "There was clearly a message to be communicated that you should not cooperate with the GBI or the investigators."

Davis said Hawkins was never stopped from cooperating.

"This is the real question, if Ms. Hawkins had something to tell the GBI, what was it?" he said. "She didn't witness any cheating. This wasn't a witness the GBI was looking for."

The case is set to begin Aug. 19.