Guilty verdicts reached for 11 of 12 in APS cheating trial

ATLANTA — Several former educators have been taken to the Fulton County Jail after a jury reached guilty verdicts in the Atlanta Public Schools cheating trial.
The jury convicted 11 of 12 defendants of racketeering. Jurors acquitted only one defendant, Dessa Curb, of all charges.
Channel 2's Carl Willis spoke with defense attorney Gerald Griggs moments after he visited his client Angela Williamson at Fulton County Jail Wednesday evening.
"The battle is not quite over yet," Griggs said. "The jury has spoken but the sentence has not been pronounced. There's still an opportunity for the judge to sentence her probation and then we fight it on appeals," Griggs said.

The decision comes 7 years after an investigation by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution that exposed the cheating.

The Atlanta Public Schools cheating scandal that took years to come together and a trial that took six months to present came to an end so suddenly that none of the former educators seemed prepared for the jury's decision.

Judge Jerry Baxter surprised defense attorneys brushing back their arguments to let defendants remain out on bond through sentencing.
"It's not one of the things I get a kick out of, but they have made their bed and they're going to have to lie in it," Baxter said.
District Attorney Paul Howard celebrated with his team after the verdict saying this was a win for the community and should make APS better.
"We've been fighting for the children in our community, particularly those children who were deprived by this cheating scandal," Howard said.
Still, defense attorneys say the punishment, at least to this point, doesn't fit the crime.
"You have educators with no record and you put them in general population, you're dealing with a whole different animal. We don't even want to think about right now," Griggs said.

Baxter set sentencing for the 11 for Monday, April 13 at 10 a.m. Sentencing for Robinson is set for August.

The female defendants were moved to jail in Alpharetta. Males remain at main jail in Atlanta.

The Defendants:

Sharon Davis-WilliamsSchool Resource Team Executive Director, Violation of racketeer influenced and corrupt organizations act (RICO): GUILTY, False statements: NOT GUILTY

Tamara CotmanSchool Resource Team Executive Director, RICO: GUILTY
Michael Pitts:  School Resource Team Executive Director, RICO: GUILTY, Influencing witnesses: GUILTY
Dana Evans: Dobbs Elementary Principal, RICO: GUILTY, False statements: GUILTY

Angela Williamson: Dobbs Elementary Teacher: RICO: GUILTY, False statements: GUILTY, False swearing: GUILTY

Dessa Curb: All counts: NOT GUILTY

Shani Robinson: Dunbar Elementary Teacher, RICO: GUILTY, False statements: GUILTY

Pamela Cleveland: Dunbar Elementary Teacher, RICO: GUILTY, False statements: GUILTY

Diane Buckner-Webb: Dunbar Elementary Teacher, RICO: GUILTY, False statements: GUILTY

Tabeeka Jordan: Deerwood Elementary Asst. Principal, RICO: GUILTY, False statements: NOT GUILTY, Theft by taking: NOT GUILTY

Donald BullockUsher-Collier Heights Elementary Testing Coordinator , RICO: GUILTY, False statements: GUILTY, False swearing: GUILTY 

Theresia CopelandBenteen Elementary Testing Coordinator , RICO: GUILTY, Theft by taking: NOT GUILTY, False statements: GUILTY 

Outside the courtroom, outraged defense attorneys called this a sad day for Fulton County.

The lawyers for the 11 convicted educators told Channel 2's Tom Regan there is no reason for the judge to send the educators to jail prior to sentencing.
The attorneys said their clients all have deep roots in the family and are not a flight risk.
Nearly every attorney told Regan the jury's guilty decision on the racketeering charges was a complete shock and it was outrageous that the teachers face potentially decades in prison.
"If you were there for the seven or eight months that we were there, and you saw the evidence and you saw the witnesses who testified, convicted folks, liars, people who admitted they lied, who got deals. And that was the evidence against our client? You'd be as surprised as we are," said Keith Adams, attorney
"My client was not convicted for what he did, because he didn't do anything," said George Lawson, attorney for Michael Pitts.
"The appropriate verdict would have been not guilty, so the appropriate sentence should be send them home," said Gerald Riggs, attorney for Angela Williamson.
Several of the lawyers told Regan they will file for an appeal to get their clients out of jail while they prepare an appeal for their cases.

Dessa Curb found not guilty

The one woman who was acquitted of allegations she was involved in the APS cheating scandal says it was her faith in God that got her through these last few trying months.
Former special education teacher Dessa Curb spoke to Channel 2 investigative reporter Mark Winne outside the courtroom after the verdicts were read Wednesday afternoon.
"I loved my job. I was very proud of it," Curb told Winne. "I'm thankful to God that I'm able to walk out of here today. I prayed and I believed, and I'm thankful that I had a good attorney and that the jury listened to our case. But I'm very upset about the other people."
Curb told Winne that even as the verdicts were being read, she knew that she would be found not guilty.
"I knew. Because I've prayed, and God told me it would be alright. And I never doubted," Curb said.
Curb had retired after the beginning of the APS cheating scandal investigation. When asked what she was going to do now, Curb said she wants to go back to her normal life.
"Just go back to my church work and my quiet life," Curb told Winne.
Fulton County District Attorney Paul Howard told Winne that the not guilty verdict against Curb showed that jurors worked hard and that they were extremely fair in their decisions.

Parents react to cheating scandal verdict

Parents whose children were victims of the cheating scandal told Channel 2's Rachel Stockman they are very relieved by Wednesday's guilty verdicts.
Shawnna Hayes-Tavares' two children both had their tests flagged during the investigation. She's been demanding answers from the school since it happened.

She says she felt vindicated for both her children and herself.
"We know what the reality is, and the courts showed it today," Hayes-Tavares said.
The cheating happened five years ago, but Hayes-Tavares said she feels like her children finally got justice.

Her son was among those who had their grades changed by teachers at Slater Elementary School. He is a special needs student.
"It gave not only him, but me, more importantly, a false sense of security as it relates to his education," Hayes-Tavares said.
Dunbar Elementary School in southwest Atlanta racked up the most teachers convicted on charges Thursday.
Former Dunbar student Deanthony Fowler told Stockman he remembers having some of them as teachers. His son is set to attend next year.
"I don't think jail time should be necessary," Fowler said when asked if the teachers should be punished.
Hayes-Tavares said she hopes what happened will be a warning for other teachers and parents to pay attention.
"You send the message. Never again in Atlanta Public Schools will we stand for this crime against children, especially poor children," Hayes-Tavares said.

Statements from officials about APS cheating verdict

Statement from former Gov. Sonny Perdue:

"Today's verdict marks the end of a dark chapter for Atlanta Public Schools, but it is not the final chapter. I want to personally thank Judge Baxter and members of the jury and the prosecution team for their hard work and perseverance. I also want to thank GBI Director Vernon Keenan, Fulton DA Paul Howard, Mike Bowers, Bob Wilson, Richard Hyde and the entire investigative team that exposed sunlight to a story that was being hidden from public view. My sincere hope is that this sad episode results in a renewed determination by educators, administrators and parents to help prepare all of Georgia's students to participate in our state's bright future. The shameful actions by a small handful do not represent the overwhelming number of passionate, dedicated Georgia educators who work late grading papers, spend their own money to furnish their classroom and would never dream of doing anything to harm a student in this way.  I consider this verdict justice for them."

Statement from Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed:

"The APS cheating scandal marked one of the darkest periods in the life of our city. I am hopeful that with the jury's verdict today, we can finally close this chapter and move forward with the education and development of our young people. I want to thank Judge Baxter and the Court for their service."

The Atlanta Public Schools Board of Education also released a statement saying:

"This has been a sad and tragic chapter for Atlanta Public Schools that has now come to a close.  It has been a painful time for our students, families, employees and the City.

"However, since Day One 2015, APS has remained focused on the students under the new student-centered Superintendent, Dr. Meria J. Carstarphen, and the new leadership in the Atlanta Board of Education. Reforms began almost three years ago and additional ones have been created under this new leadership to make sure something like this never happens again.  Challenges remain, for sure, but we are making progress every day and there is great reason to be optimistic.

"Dr. Carstarphen and the school board continue to work together to create a new culture at APS, that is a caring one of trust and collaboration where every student graduates ready for college and career. Last fall, the district established a new vision of a high-performing school district where students love to learn, educators inspire, families engage and the community trusts the system. The district remains dedicated to always putting the needs of our students first."

A grand jury indicted 35 educators in March 2013. Twenty-one took plea deals, and another defendant, former APS Superintendent Beverly Hall, died. 

Educators have said they faced pressure from supervisors to inflate standardized test scores to show gains in student achievement.