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Judge grants bond for legal observer at ‘Stop Cop City’ protest, denies for 22 others accused of domestic terrorism

Out of the 23 taken into custody, Thomas Jurgens was granted bond. Jurgens is a lawyer and employee with the Southern Poverty Law Center.

ATLANTA — Bond was denied for all but one of the 23 people accused of burning equipment and throwing Molotov cocktails at the site of the future Atlanta public training center.

DeKalb County Magistrate Judge A.W. Davis presided over the hearings. Davis said she made her decisions based on the "serious accusations" brought against the group. 

The group, of which only two people are from Georgia, was part of a protest gathering and music festival at Gresham Park. 

Protesters planned a "week of action" and community events to further emphasize opposition to the public safety training facility. The music festival was part of that week of action.

The group accused of domestic terrorism left the festival, prosecutors say and chaos escalated at the facility's future site Sunday.

The individuals faced a judge Tuesday. Here's what happened in the courtroom.

What happened in the first hearing? 

During the hearing, several character witnesses were called on behalf of some protesters. In addition to the character witnesses, many defense lawyers argued that bond should be granted since many of the defendants did not have a criminal history prior to the protest.

Some defense lawyers also argued that the language used in the arrest warrant was too vague when specifically referencing who damaged property or assaulted an officer. One of those attorneys included Amanda Palmer, who represents Timothy Bilodeau, a man accused of domestic terrorism. 

“There’s no allegation that [Bilodeau] was personally observed throwing a rock or firework or anything like that. It’s more akin to criminal trespass allegation," Palmer said.

Many of the defense lawyers further claimed that their defendants were simply there to enjoy the festival. However, Chief Assistant District Attorney Peter Johnson argued that the 23 were arrested after investigators suspected them of splitting off from the main group of activists.

"This group changed their clothing into all blackout clothing. They had shields, like riot-type shields, they had bags of rocks, fireworks, Molotov cocktails,” Johnson said. 

Why was bond denied for 22 of the protesters?

Davis primarily denied bond on two factors; that the activists were possibly a "danger to persons or property" and the risk that out-of-state defendants were less likely to return for a hearing.

The 22 activists who were denied bond may appeal the decision before a superior court judge. Preliminary hearings will be scheduled later.

While the state alleges that the 23 went out of their way to damage the property, Marlon Kautz, an organizer for the Atlanta Solidarity Fund, believes otherwise. 

"As far as we can tell, police made no meaningful response at the construction site itself. Instead, they mass enforced at the entryways to a music festival taking place more than a mile away,” Kautz said.

Bond granted for Georgia lawyer 

Out of the 23 charged with domestic terrorism, the judge only granted one person bond.

Thomas Jurgens, a lawyer and employee with the Southern Poverty Law Center, was granted a bond of $5,000. Jurgens claims he was there as only a legal observer, not an active participant in the protest. Jurgens is allowed to practice law in Georgia and another state. 

Jurgens was also wearing a National Lawyers Guild hat and green shirt. Many of the protesters facing charges were believed to be wearing all black in an attempt to camouflage themselves, prosecutors said.

On Sunday, a protest gathering and music festival in Gresham Park turned violent when close to 150 people descended on the site, according to police. 

Officers add that, aside from burning construction equipment, the activists threw Molotov cocktails, bricks and rocks at them.

Police said Sunday night they detained at least 35 people.

Events leading up to protest at 'Cop City'

In January, a shooting broke out during a clearing operation by law enforcement, leaving an activist dead and a state trooper injured. Law enforcement claimed the activist, Manuel PaezTerán - also known as Tortuguita - fired first and was killed in return fire. 

RELATED: What is 'Cop City'? Explaining the controversy around a future police training center in Atlanta

Activist groups and Paez Terán's family disputed the official version of events, insisting Paez Terán was a pacifist who wouldn't have instigated the shootings.

Ultimately, Paez Terán's death had a galvanizing effect on the protest movement, leading to a demonstration through downtown Atlanta in January that left a police vehicle burned and a building that houses the Atlanta Police Foundation damaged. 

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