A Fulton County jury is expected to begin deliberating Thursday in the first criminal trial arising from the Atlanta Public Schools test-cheating scandal.
The jury will decide the fate of former APS regional director Tamara Cotman, who is charged with a single felony count: influencing a witness. If convicted, she faces up to five years in prison.
Prosecutors allege that in late 2010 and early 2011 Cotman intimidated and threatened then-Scott Elementary School interim principal Jimmye Hawkins by placing her in fear of retaliation if she cooperated with any investigation into test-cheating.
Cotman’s lawyer, Benjamin Davis, rested his case Wednesday after presenting a number of witnesses who said they never saw Cotman retaliate against APS employees, and other witnesses who said they did not see test cheating at schools in Cotman’s regional district. Cotman elected not to testify in her defense.
Tracie Colton-Astin gave similar testimony to that given Tuesday by two principals who said Cotman had passed out “go to hell” notes as a stress-relief exercise, not to discourage the educators from cooperating with GBI agents who were showing up for interviews at APS schools.
Colton-Astin, a model teacher leader, said she was standing in the back of the room setting up refreshments for the Nov. 17, 2010, principals meeting when Cotman handed out the memos with the headings, “go to hell.”
Cotman told the 10 principals at the meeting they could write the memos to whoever or whatever was frustrating them, Colton-Astin said. “There were not any directives to discuss any topic,” she said.
Other principals who also attended that meeting, including Hawkins, previously testified for the prosecution that Cotman told them to address the memos to the GBI or state investigators. Those principals said they found Cotman’s directive appalling and intimidating.