ATLANTA — Atlanta school officials are refusing to say what has happened to a controversial high school principal who remained in his job despite evidence that he had fondled a woman who worked with him.
Channel 2 investigative reporter Richard Belcher found out Douglass High School principal Artesza Portee was apparently transferred days after we interviewed the victim and after Douglass students marched through the school’s halls protesting his behavior.
Atlanta Public Schools told Channel 2 Action News twice earlier this year — including as recently as two weeks ago — that the district considered the matter closed after Portee was suspended for 25 days, but not fired for his behavior with a female colleague.
Records obtained through the Georgia Open Records Act showed that Portee was allowed to serve his suspension one day each week for 25 weeks. But something changed when Sheri McEachern filed a federal lawsuit against Portee and the district in late September.
Suddenly, it seemed the matter wasn’t closed.
McEachern described the 2018 incident when she was working in an after-school program at another school where Portee was principal at the time. She said the assault came after Portee asked her into his office.
“He literally walked over to me, put his tongue in my mouth and began to grab on my breasts and pull them out of my shirt,” McEachern said.
She didn’t file a formal complaint at the time — which she says she regrets — but she did complain after she went to work at Douglass and Portee was named principal of the school in west Atlanta.
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An independent investigation concluded that Portee was not being truthful when he denied the incident.
Channel 2 Action News reported on the findings of the investigation, but our Sept. 29 interview was the first time McEachern described the 2018 incident publicly.
That same day, her attorney filed a civil rights and sexual harassment suit against Portee and APS.
By not firing Portee, McEachern told Channel 2 Action News that it signals “that they (the district) support and condone him. The only thing they suspended him for was not being honest. It was not the actions. That’s a problem.”
“I’ve never had a situation where an employee or an executive committed sexual assault and then was caught lying about it and was not fired,” attorney Stephen Katz said.
The day after the Channel 2 story with McEachern and her attorney aired, students filled the hallways at the high school, many of them chanting about Portee: “Lock his *** up!”
There was no violence, but the school was placed in lockdown, and APS superintendent Lisa Herring came to Douglass for a private meeting with faculty and staff a day later.
Angelia Bankston, the president of the Douglass High School Alumni Association, said the whole Douglass community has followed Sheri McEachern’s story, but her interview took the ill will toward the principal to another level.
“I think that when they saw her tell her story, then it hit home for them. You have to be very concerned in the era of #MeToo. These things are happening, and they need to stop,” she told Belcher.
About school officials, Bankston wondered: “Why would you want to stand behind a person like this?”
Channel 2 Action News asked APS where Portee is assigned and whether the district will explain his removal from Douglass.
The district answered neither question, so Channel 2 Action News has filed an open records request to see if there are documents that reveal more about a case that no longer seems closed.
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