Court upholds RICO conviction in Atlanta schools test-cheating case

Former Dobbs Elementary School principal Dana Evans talks with her lawyer, Bob Rubin. (Kent D. Johnson / AJC file photo / September 2015)
Caption
Former Dobbs Elementary School principal Dana Evans talks with her lawyer, Bob Rubin. (Kent D. Johnson / AJC file photo / September 2015)

The Georgia Court of Appeals has upheld the racketeering conviction against a former Dobbs Elementary principal in the Atlanta Public Schools test-cheating scandal.

Educator Dana Evans was found guilty at trial of RICO and making a false statement. She was sentenced as a first offender to five years, with one year to be served in confinement and the rest on probation. Her prison term was suspended pending her appeal.

Her lawyer, Bob Rubin, said Monday he was “extremely disappointed” by the appeals court’s decision and that he continues to believe Evans was denied a fair trial.

“Dr. Evans is one of the finest educators and people I’ve ever met, and I’m hoping one day she can get justice,” Rubin said. He added that he will ask the Georgia Supreme Court to hear Evans’ appeal.

Caption
May 14, 2020 Decatur - Bob Rubin (left) represented former Dobbs Elementary principal Dana Evans in the Atlanta Public Schools test-cheating trial. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

May 14, 2020 Decatur - Bob Rubin (left) represented former Dobbs Elementary principal Dana Evans in the Atlanta Public Schools test-cheating trial. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)
Caption
May 14, 2020 Decatur - Bob Rubin (left) represented former Dobbs Elementary principal Dana Evans in the Atlanta Public Schools test-cheating trial. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis, who was the lead prosecutor in the case, said she was gratified the verdict was upheld. “As I stated during the trial, real harm came to Atlanta children from the defendants’ conduct, and they must be held accountable,” she said.

The APS test-cheating case produced one of the longest trials in Georgia history, beginning in August 2014 and wrapping up almost eight months later. In all, 35 educators were indicted for RICO and other offenses. Of those, 21 pleaded guilty, two died before trial and 11 of the 12 who went to trial were convicted.

On appeal, Evans’ lawyers argued that the indictment should have been dismissed because prosecutors used her own coerced statements against her. They relied on a 1967 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that said compelled statements given by government employees cannot be used against them in a prosecution.

When the state began investigating the scandal, then-Superintendent Beverly Hall told educators they faced discipline, including termination, if they did not cooperate. Hall died in 2015.

In a unanimous 41-page ruling, issued Thursday, a three-judge panel of the Court of Appeals rejected Evans’ argument.

Evans failed to show the indictment was returned with wrongly obtained evidence and testimony, said the decision, written by Chief Judge Christopher McFadden.

McFadden added that the evidence showed that Evans “allowed cheating on standardized tests to take place at Dobbs in order to meet certain testing targets.”

As for the cheating, the evidence showed Evans “prevented others from discussing it, threatened teachers and retaliated against at least one person for speaking to the GBI about it,” McFadden wrote. “Evans herself falsely told GBI agents that she was unaware of any cheating at Dobbs.”

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