ATLANTA — Seven people face domestic terrorism charges after being arrested by the Georgia Bureau of Investigation on Wednesday, jail records show.
All seven suspects were released from jail just after midnight. Each person was charged with domestic terrorism and criminal trespass, according to jail records. Three others were also charged with aggravated assault upon a public safety officer.
GBI officials confirmed to 11Alive's Tracey Amick-Peer that the arrests are connected to the law enforcement operations on Wednesday to clear out the protest encampment at the site of a future Atlanta Police training center.
On Wednesday, one protester was killed and a Georgia State Patrol trooper was shot during clearing operations at the site, which is situated at the Old Atlanta Prison Farm between Key Road and Intrenchment Creek in southeast Atlanta. GBI identified the person as 26-year-old Manuel Esteban Paez Teran. "Defend the Atlanta Forest" protesters have publicly said that Teran goes by they/it pronouns.
The GBI said the trooper was shot at before Teran was killed by return fire from law enforcement officers. The protesters contend it isn't clear who fired the first shot, or if a protester fired a shot at all.
Teran's brother, who didn't want to be identified, said news of his sibling's death has been devastating.
"I was worried. I was worried. I was worried that one of Manny's friends was killed and I was worried that they was sad, I wasn't ready for it to be them," he said.
He added their family is left in disbelief by Teran's death.
"I do a lot of traveling, and I wanted to talk to him. I wanted to talk to him, but then the reception wasn't good so many when I get home but by then it was too late," he said.
The GBI said officers located a person "inside a tent in the woods" and "gave verbal commands" to leave. The person "did not comply and shot" the trooper, according to the GBI. The bureau said they recovered a handgun and shell casings at the scene.
The trooper underwent surgery at Grady Hospital and was stable. GSP said in a statement Thursday they will not be naming the trooper "because disclosure would compromise security against criminal or terroristic acts due to retaliation."
Teran, who authorities say is the alleged shooter, died at the scene. The protest groups held a vigil for the person in Little Five Points on Wednesday night.
Other 'Cop City' arrests
The arrests and charges mirror those made a month ago in which five people were arrested and charged with domestic terrorism after clearing operations at the site, referred to by a protest movement as "Cop City."
Since then, two additional people were arrested and added to the same case file in DeKalb County, bringing the total number of people facing domestic terrorism charges for protest involvement at the site to 14.
At least six of the previously arrested people have been granted bond, with part of their conditions including staying away from the site and ceasing any contact with the "Defend the Atlanta Forest" movement.
The protesters have had semi-permanent tree-sitting encampments for more than a year in the forested area where the Atlanta Police Foundation intends to build the training facility.
More events planned
Protest movement statements said responsibility for the incident on Wednesday lies with increasingly aggressive law enforcement tactics to clear the encampments. The GBI characterized the operation as "asking people to leave," requesting ID and "if they comply, so be it."
"There's a difference between protests and what's happening there," GBI Director Mike Register said of the encampments on Wednesday, adding "we're dealing not with protesters but with criminals."
Protest accounts described the person killed as "someone who loved the forest, someone who fought to protect the earth and its inhabitants."
More protest gatherings in response to the protester's death are planned, including one for Saturday at Underground Atlanta. One group aligned with the protesters, the Atlanta Solidarity Fund, said it was "preparing a legal team to investigate and pursue a wrongful death suit" in the incident.
At least one Twitter account aligned with the protest movement was suspended after calling for "reciprocal violence" and a "night of rage" against police in response to the death.
There have been several clashes between the protesters and police or other city service employees in recent months over the future City of Atlanta Public Safety Center, which was approved by the City Council in 2021. The Atlanta Police Foundation will build the 85-acre, $90 million facility under a lease agreement with the city. The foundation says it will preserve 180 additional acres at the site for green space.
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.
The law enforcement community has argued the training facility facility would be a crucial component in stabilizing the police force, aiding in recruitment and retention after low morale and departures following the racial and criminal justice protests of 2020.
They also say it would improve training and community ties, framing it as an answer to police reform demands stemming from the 2020 protests to eliminate contentious policing practices and reduce tensions.
Atlanta Police have characterized the tree-sitters occupying the forest as outsiders. Chief Darin Schierbaum has said several arrested on the site had out-of-state driver's licensees, and at least three people arrested last month were said by the GBI to have had origins in Maine, California and Wisconsin. Of the most recently arrested group, none are from Georgia, according to the GBI.
In addition to the loosely organized encampment/forest defender movement, there has also been visible local opposition from community groups who oppose the facility both environmentally and for its placement in a predominantly Black section of the city.
Kwame Olufemi of Community Movement told 11Alive's La'Tasha Givens last year it was "clearly not for us, it’s not for our community and it’s going to be adverse to us and our people."
Mayor Andre Dickens has backed law enforcement and the facility, both voting for it as a City Council member before his election as mayor and on Wednesday saying the city is giving "full support" to state and county partners to secure the site.
"Our prayers of a speedy and full recovery are with this trooper," Dickens said.