New indictments in APS test-cheating case

Fulton County prosecutors on Friday obtained new indictments that contain more specific allegations against four educators and administrators already charged in the Atlanta Public Schools test-cheating case.

The new indictments were handed up just days before Fulton County Superior Court Judge Jerry Baxter is to consider motions filed by all 35 defendants who seek to have the sweeping racketeering indictment dismissed. The new indictments provide more details about how the four defendants allegedly influenced potential witnesses.

The four defendants facing more comprehensive charges are: former APS executive directors Michael Pitts and Tamara Cotman; Lera Middlebrooks, a testing coordinator at Dunbar Elementary School; and Gideons Elementary Principal Armstead Salters.

These four stand indicted with 31 others on charges that include racketeering conspiracy, false swearing, false statements and influencing witnesses. All 35 defendants have pleaded not guilty.

In recent motions, defense lawyers have sought to dismiss the charges. Some motions, such as one filed by Cotman’s attorney, said the charges were so vague that lawyers could not formulate a defense.

The new indictments provide specifics. Cotman is accused of threatening a witness by placing her in fear of retaliation and demotion if she cooperated with any investigation. Similarly, Pitts is accused of threatening a female employee and other staff at Parks Middle if they cooperated with the governor’s special investigators who looked into test-cheating at APS.

“The new indictments added more specificity to the charges but did not change the substantive offense,” Deputy District Attorney Fani Willis said in a motion filed Friday.

Bruce Harvey, a criminal defense attorney who has represented Middlebrooks, criticized prosecutors for obtaining a faulty indictment to begin with.

“It’s the same old wine in a brand new bottle,” Harvey said. “I think it shows the paucity of the evidence supporting their conspiracy theory and their legal reasoning.”