Tamara Cotman is a former APS regional director, on trial for intimidating a witness in the cheating scandal.
ATLANTA, Ga. -- The star witness against an Atlanta Public Schools administrator told a jury that the defendant ordered her to write a memo to the GBI telling investigators to "go to hell."
'You always had this threat over," Jimmye Hawkins told the jury Wednesday. Hawkins worked under the supervision of Tamara Cotman, the defendant in this trial. Cotman is one of 34 educators indicted in the cheating case. Because her attorney filed a speedy trial motion, she's being tried in advance of the group trial expected next year involving the remaining defendants.
"Kind of like, what Ms. Cotman giveth, Ms. Cotman can taketh away. And she could remove you at anytime," Hawkins said, describing Cotman's uncompromising management style.
Hawkins was interim superintendent at Scott Elementary school. Cottman was her regional director at APS. By November 2010, the APS cheating scandal was under investigation. Hawkins says Cotman ordered her and other principals into a meeting.
"She said, I want you to write a 'go to hell' memo to the GBI," Hawkins recalled. She said Cotman handed out paper with the words "go to hell" printed on it.
Hawkins says Cotman ordered her and the other principals to write the notes.
"All I could think was, this is wrong," Hawkins said. She said she wrote instead about one of her least favorite political figures, former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin. "No offense to anybody here," Hawkins said apologetically to the jury.
Cottman has pleaded not guilty to a charge of influencing a witness-and Hawkins is named in the indictment as that witness.
She said the assignment gnawed at her. "If I don't write something, I'm gonna get singled out... There's consequences to pay," Hawkins said.
Hawkins says there were consequences. Four months after that meeting Hawkins was demoted and transferred. But she says she was reinstated shortly thereafter, following the removal of Cotman from her job. Hawkins still works for APS
She testified the "go to hell" notes were never sent, that Cotman ripped them up at the end of the meeting. But Hawkins said the meeting demonstrated Cotman's contempt for the investigation into the cheating case, and intimidated underlings into withholding cooperation from investigators.