ATLANTA — Channel 2 has learned that a former Atlanta Public Schools principal accused of sexually harassing a colleague will retire this week. Artesza Portee is leaving the district months after APS transferred him following student protests about his alleged behavior, which has been the subject of several school district investigations and is now the subject of a federal civil suit against the district and Portee.
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Channel 2 Investigative Reporter Richard Belcher says the district went to extraordinary lengths to hide where Portee was working after his transfer. We filed a request under the Georgia Open Records Act to find out Portee’s new assignment, but APS refused to provide the records, in effect hiding Portee for months
When he learned of Portee’s pending retirement, the attorney for Portee’s alleged victim was critical of APS’s handling of the whole matter.
“It’s shameful. That’s what it is,” Stephen Katz said.
His client, Sheri McEachern, contends Portee kissed and groped her in 2018 in his office at Sylvan Middle School, where Portee was then principal.
“He literally walked over to me, put his tongue in my mouth,” McEachern told Channel 2′s Richard Belcher last September.
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McEachern waited two years to file a formal complaint, which she admits was a mistake. When she did, APS hired the private law firm Greenberg Traurig to investigate Portee, one of several such investigations of Portee, which cost the district more than $75,000.
Among the law firm’s conclusions: “Portee’s character for truthfulness with regard to his denial of any improper conduct with women at APS...does not appear credible and warrants action by APS.”
Once she read the report, McEachern agreed. “There was very clear evidence that he was not truthful, that he had done this before,” she told Channel 2.
APS suspended but did not fire Portee, who by then was principal at Douglass High, where McEachern also worked. He was allowed to serve his 25-day suspension one day-per week for 25 weeks. APS told Channel 2 it “considers the matter closed.”
But that changed quickly after students at Douglass learned of McEachern’s accusations against their principal last September. No one was injured, but the school was placed on lockdown, and Superintendent Lisa Herring paid a visit to the school that same week. Suddenly the matter wasn’t closed after all. APS quickly transferred Portee but took the highly unusual step of refusing to provide information about his new assignment.
Sources later confirmed the district had moved the $160,000-a-year former principal to some undisclosed job at the transportation office on Metropolitan Boulevard. Last month, he announced his intention to retire June 30, the end of the school year.
“The administration is complicit in covering it up. The administration wanted to hide their own malfeasance. They wanted to hide their own behaviors, and so they wanted this quietly to go away,” Katz told Channel 2 when he learned of the retirement. Katz says the district’s treatment of Artesza Portee sends a clear message to women employees: “You can be sexually assaulted. You can endure the greatest of indignities that violate the law, but you just have to take it.”
APS declined to comment other than to confirm that Portee is retiring.
McEachern is still employed by APS and has a pending federal lawsuit against the district and Portee.
Andrew Coffman, the attorney for Portee, did not provide a statement.
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