Judge displeased with another prosecution witness in APS case

Yet another witness for the prosecution could be in trouble because of her testimony in the Atlanta Public Schools test-cheating case.

Fulton County Superior Court Judge Jerry Baxter on Thursday stopped the clock running on Sheridan Rogers’ one-year sentence of probation, which was to end on Dec. 20.

Baxter did not specify why he was taking such action but his pronouncement indicates he thinks Rogers may not have given truthful testimony on the witness stand this week or when she pleaded guilty to misdemeanor obstruction in the case almost 10 months ago.

“I’d like to have a hearing when the case is over with this witness,” Baxter said as court adjourned for a lunch break, with Rogers still on the witness stand. “I’m tolling her sentence at this time.”

Defense attorney Scott Smith, who represents testing coordinator Theresia Copeland, later told Baxter that it appeared Rogers “perjured herself” when she pleaded guilty. As for tolling Rogers’ probation, Smith added, “It makes sense.”

Throughout her time on the witness stand, Rogers repeatedly said she was being honest and forthcoming. But her testimony Thursday differed from statements in her plea agreement about the time span during which she participated in cheating and what she told GBI agents during a state investigation.

Rogers was the second prosecution witness who was initially indicted in the racketeering case but later pleaded guilty to a reduced charge. The first such witness, former Gideons Elementary School principal Armstead Salters, found himself in the same situation as Rogers at the end of his testimony on Tuesday.

Salters reneged on several key points in his plea agreement, though he swore them to be true when he pleaded guilty on Dec. 19. Salters, who was sentenced to two years on probation, acknowledged he may have to go to prison for backing away from his agreement.

Now both Rogers and Salters must wait until the months-long trial ends to see if their probation will be revoked and whether they will be re-sentenced to more severe punishment.

Rogers, the former testing coordinator at Gideons, testified that Salters ordered her to give third- and fifth-grade teachers answer sheets and access to the students’ standardized tests so they could erase wrong answers and enter correct ones.

Rogers blamed the motivation to cheat on pressure from “downtown” to produce increasingly improved results on the Criterion-Referenced Competency Test, even though it was widely known that most Gideons students could not meet the targets.

Her testimony conflicted with her plea agreement when, on the witness stand, she indicated she allowed cheating to occur from 2005 to 2009 and that she believed teachers were changing answers dating as far back as 2002. “I don’t know how they did it, but they did it,” she said.

However, defense attorney Akil Secret, who represents former teacher Tabeeka Jordan, noted that Rogers’ plea agreement says that she both knew about and participated in test-cheating as early as 2002. “I questioned it, but I signed it anyway,” she said, referring to the plea agreement.

Rogers also was challenged about what she had sworn to in her plea agreement and what she told GBI agents about her principal during an earlier state investigation.

In 2010, Rogers was interviewed at least two times by GBI agents during the state’s investigation. She was initially told she could get an immunity agreement, but investigators never gave her one because they did not believe she was being truthful, Rogers acknowledged Thursday.

“I told them exactly what I knew,” she said. “They said I lied. … I don’t remember leaving anything out, but they claim I did.”

Rogers testified that Salters encouraged her to give teachers the tools to cheat. Defense attorney George Lawson, who represents former regional supervisor Michael Pitts, then produced a GBI document recounting what Rogers had told GBI agents: that she never had a conversation with Salters about test-cheating.

Rogers responded, “No I did not lie and this is not correct here because I had said previously that he demanded that I give the test to the teachers.”

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