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60+ people indicted on RICO over ties to protesting of Atlanta Public Safety Training Center

Many of the individuals named in the indictment were among those previously arrested and charged by local authorities.

ATLANTA — More than 60 people have been indicted on racketerring and other charges tied to the opposition movement against the future Atlanta Public Safety Training Center. The case was filed in Fulton County and is being prosecuted by Georgia Attorney General Chris Carr and his office. 

Called "Cop City" by opponents, the project is a planned 85-acre complex on the Old Prison Farm site in south DeKalb County under a land lease agreement with the City of Atlanta.

In addition to police training facilities, it is also slated to offer training capacity to the Atlanta Fire Rescue Department and the city's 911 center.

"The purpose of Defend the Atlanta Forest is to occupy of parts or all of 381 forested acres in DeKalb County, Georgia that is owned by Atlanta Police Foundation and leased by the City of Atlanta for the purpose of preventing the construction of the Atlanta Public Safety Training Center," the indictment alleges. "Each individual charged in this indictment knowing joined the conspiracy in an attempt to prevent the training center from being built. "

Carr held a press conference Tuesday afternoon, further discussing the indictment.

“Violence is not political speech," he said. 

Attorney Devin Franklin with the Southern Center for Human Rights in Atlanta said the center is already working to arrange for attorneys for any of the defendants who need representation.

“And what we have heard and read in the indictment is not violence. It is alleged property destruction," Franklin said.

It is a distinction, Franklin said, that will be clear when defense attorneys argue that relatively few of the suspects are accused of actual destruction.

"We are going to be able to make sure that everyone has qualified, competent, zealous legal representation," Franklin said, "and we stand ready to stand beside those persons who have been accused."

Carr said in this racketeering case, all were involved in some way.

“If you come to our state and shoot a police officer, hurl Molotov cocktails at law enforcement, set fire to police vehicles, damage construction equipment, vandalize private homes and businesses, and terrorize their occupants, you can and will be held accountable," Carr said.

RELATED: Opponents of Atlanta police and fire training center file federal lawsuit to stop construction

In a statement, the Cop City Vote Coalition, which is attempting to organize a referendum that if passed would revoke funding for the facility, said the prosecution sends a "chilling message that any dissent to Cop City will be punished with the full power and violence of the government."

The coalition said it "strongly condemns these anti-democratic charges" and "will not be intimidated," calling Carr's prosecution "part of a retaliatory pattern of prosecutions against organizers nationwide that attack the right to protest and freedom of speech."

The full statement can be seen at the bottom of this article.

Gov. Brian Kemp commented on social media about the indictment.

"My top priority is and always will be keeping Georgians safe, especially against out-of-state radicals that threaten the safety of our citizens and law enforcement," he said on the X platform, formerly known as Twitter. 

Protest groups have strongly disputed the characterization of their activity as extremist and some of their defense attorneys have previously argued in some instances that language used in arrest warrants was too vague when specifically referencing who damaged property or assaulted an officer.

The indictment casts the opposition movement as an "enterprise of militant anarchists, eco-activists and community organizers."

Dozens of people have been arrested and charged with domestic terrorism in the last year after various protest actions at the construction site, some instances in which equipment was lit on fire, or other acts of vandalism and damage occurred. The RICO indictment includes additional charges of domestic terrorism and arson for some individuals. Many of the individuals included in the case file are among those previously arrested and charged by local authorities with domestic terrorism. 

RELATED: Georgia's attorney general speaks on public safety training center prosecutions

Judge Scott McAfee recused himself from the case because, an order states, he "regularly collaborated with the Prosecution Division of the Georgia Attorney General's Office and discussed aspects of the investigation that led to this indictment." This occurred while Judge McAfee was still the state inspector general, a position he held up until earlier this year when he was appointed to his judgeship. 

McAfee is also already overseeing the 2020 election RICO case involving former President Donald Trump and 18 other co-defendants, though that is not cited as a contributing factor for the recusal.

Credit: Superior Court of Fulton County

More on the yearslong protest movement against the Atlanta Public Safety Training Center:

The training center has been met with a roughly two-year-long protest movement as city politicians, including Mayor Andre Dickens and the Atlanta Police Foundation (which is primarily funding the project), have argued it will have a much-needed modernizing effect on the police force. It is also slated to offer training capacity to the Atlanta Fire Rescue Department and the city's 911 center.

The protest movement mushroomed with the law enforcement shooting death of an activist, Manuel Paez Teran, in January. Officials have said the protester shot first at a Georgia State Patrol trooper as a clearing operation of protest encampments in the South River Forest was ongoing, then was killed in return fire. Paez Teran's family and activists have strongly contested the official narrative. 

RELATED: Muddy clothes? Advocates question evidence in domestic terrorism cases tied to police training center

The lack of bodycam videos - which are not worn by state law enforcement officers such as GSP troopers or Georgia Bureau of Investigation agents - has left unresolved what exactly happened.

The protesters have opposed the facility on environmental and historical grounds, saying it would decimate one of the largest preserved forest areas in the city and desecrate historically Native American land of the Muscogee Creek people, who once lived in the woods and called it the Weelaunee Forest before being displaced by white settlers in the early 19th century. 

They also oppose it on the grounds that the land was once the site of the Old Prison Farm, a jail complex that was billed during its operation in the mid-20th Century as an "Honor Farm" where prisoners farmed the land as a "dignified means of imprisonment," a practice which has since been scrutinized for its profit generation and exploitation of unpaid labor. 

Full Cop City Vote Coalition statement

Today, Republican Attorney General Chris Carr, who used his platform to recruit for the January 6 insurrection, announced blatantly authoritarian RICO charges against 61 people. These charges, like the previous repressive prosecutions by the State of Georgia, seek to intimidate protestors, legal observers, and bail funds alike, and send the chilling message that any dissent to Cop City will be punished with the full power and violence of the government. 

Further, the documents use the day George Floyd was murdered as the date the alleged criminal acts began. This is months before anyone was even aware of Cop City, and is a clear assault on the broader movement for racial justice and equity. Carr’s actions are a part of a retaliatory pattern of prosecutions against organizers nationwide that attack the right to protest and freedom of speech. 

The Cop City Vote coalition strongly condemns these anti-democratic charges. We will not be intimidated by power-hungry strongmen, whether in City Hall or the Attorney General’s office. Chris Carr may try to use his prosecutors and power to build his gubernatorial campaign and silence free speech, but his threats will not silence our commitment to standing up for our future, our community, and our city.

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