ATLANTA — Three people connected to the protest opposition against the future Atlanta Public Safety Training Center were arrested Wednesday, the Georgia Bureau of Investigation said, and charged with money laundering and charity fraud.
According to the GBI, a 30-year-old Savannah woman, 39-year old Atlanta man and 42-year-old Atlanta man were found with "evidence linking the three suspects to financial crimes."
The Atlanta Community Press Collective reported the Atlanta Solidarity Fund raises money for "legal defense and bail support for first amendment protected activities" and shared a statement from the collective: "ASF understands that with social resistance comes government repression. We remain committed to supporting anyone who is targeted, and challenging the violence and overreach tactics from the Atlanta PD and DeKalb and Fulton County legal system."
Georgia Attorney General Chris Carr said the arrests were "about violence that occurred at the site of the future Atlanta Public Safety Training Center and elsewhere" and Gov. Brian Kemp said, "those who backed their (the protest groups') illegal actions are also under arrest and will face justice."
The Defend the Forest protest collective called the arrests an "attack" that "should concern all bail funds, all abortion funds, all travel funds for migrants, watchdog groups, all organized material support for people criminalized by the government."
On Wednesday evening, a "Stop Cop City" rally was held outside of the DeKalb County Jail for the three protesters who were taken into custody. Signs such as "Mayor Dickens: Stop Cop City" and "Stop Cop City" were held up by those there in protest of the public safety training site.
"Three members of the Solidarity Fund were arrested by the Atlanta Police Department and the Georgia Bureau of Investigation," organizer Kamau Franklin said. "The charges are false charges -- charges which are based on the criminalization of a movement against Cop City."
'Stop Cop City' rally held at DeKalb County Jail after 3 protesters arrested
Atlanta Councilmember Liliana Bakhtiari, who represents the district that includes Edgewood, where the arrests occurred, said in a statement she was "deeply concerned that in polarized times, actions like these can inadvertently set new precedents that can jeopardize the rights that we value as Americans."
"Given the heightened state of tension throughout our community related to the Public Safety Training Center, this action deserves the utmost scrutiny and sensitivity as it moves through the legal process," Councilmember Bakhtiari said.
The arrests came ahead of a much-anticipated meeting of the Atlanta City Council on Monday that could see the final approval for the city's portion of the funding of the training center, which opponents call "Cop City."
The meeting will represent one of the last official hurdles for the project, which has cleared regulatory steps and legal challenges in DeKalb County.
While the Atlanta Police Foundation, a nonprofit that supports the Atlanta Police Department, is majority-funding the project through private donations, 11Alive reported in April that by the end of June the city has to write the police foundation a check for about half of an initial $33.5 million the city has agreed to provide -- that is, once the City Council approves the payment. According to reporting last week by the Atlanta Community Press Collective, another, previously unreported provision of the funding agreement could mean the city is on the hook for another roughly $20 million.
It remains unclear if, at Monday's meeting, that other provision will be addressed by the council.
The construction of the facility is tentatively set to start in August on a portion of land in the South River Forest.
More about the training center and its opposition
The protest movement began with semi-permanent treehouse encampments in the forest in December 2021, and mushroomed after the law enforcement shooting death of a protester, Manuel Paez Teran, in January this year.
Officials have said Teran first shot at a Georgia State Patrol trooper as a clearing operation of the encampments was ongoing, then was killed in return fire. Teran's family and activists have strongly contested the official narrative. The lack of bodycam videos - which are not worn by state law enforcement officers such as GSP troopers or GBI agents - has left unresolved what exactly happened.
Several activists in the last few months have been arrested and charged with domestic terrorism after property was damaged at the development site.
The plan is to build the facility on land - the old Atlanta Prison Farm complex - owned by the City of Atlanta and being leased to the Atlanta Police Foundation.
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.
The project's backers - including the law enforcement community, Atlanta Mayor Andre Dickens and DeKalb County CEO Michael Thurmond - have argued it would improve training and community ties, framing it as an answer to police reform demands to eliminate contentious policing practices and reduce tensions between the police department and the public.