DeKalb County Police blocked West Side Place off Constitution Road on the evening of Dec. 13. Protesters said police raided the area where activists have been sitting in trees to oppose plans for a Atlanta Police training center. (Dyana Bagby)

UPDATE: Five people protesting Atlanta’s planned new public safety training center have been charged with domestic terrorism and other charges, according to the Georgia Bureau of Investigation.

The arrests were made Dec. 13 during a joint operation of the GBI, Atlanta Police, and other agencies to remove protesters from the woods off Key Road in Dekalb County where the training center is planned to be built. Protesters have been arrested at the site before, but none have been charged with domestic terrorism. A person convicted of terrorism can face a minimum of five years in prison.

“Yesterday, several people threw rocks at police cars and attacked EMTs outside the neighboring fire stations with rocks and bottles,” said GBI spokesperson Nelly Miles in a press release. “Task force members used various tactics to arrest individuals who were occupying makeshift treehouses.”

After police cleared the area, which included makeshift treehouses, they found explosive devices, gasoline, and road flairs, according to the GBI.

Those arrested and taken to the DeKalb County Jail: 

Francis Carroll, 22, of Maine: Criminal Trespass, Domestic Terrorism, Aggravated Assault, Felony Obstruction, Interference with Government Property, Possession of Tools for the Commission of the Crime 

Nicholas Olsen, 25: Domestic Terrorism, Aggravated Assault, Interference with Government Property, Obstruction 

Serena Hertel, 25, of California: Criminal Trespass, Domestic Terrorism, Aggravated Assault, Obstruction, Inciting a Riot  

Leonard Vioselle, 20: Criminal Trespass, Domestic Terrorism, Possession for Tools of the Crime 

Arieon Robinson of Wisconsin: Criminal Trespass, Obstruction, Domestic Terrorism 

The GBI said in the news release that it is part of a joint task force “formed to combat ongoing criminal activity at the Atlanta Police Department (APD) site.”

“Yesterday, Dec, 13, our agents assisted Atlanta Police Department and other local, state, and task force members in an operation to remove barricades blocking some of the entrances to the training center,” Miles said in the GBI news release.

This joint task force consists of the GBI, Atlanta Police Department, FBI, the Georgia Attorney General’s Office, the DeKalb County Police Department, the DeKalb County District Attorney’s Office, the Georgia State Patrol, and the Department of Natural Resources. 

This joint investigation is active and ongoing, Miles said. Once the investigation is complete, the case file will be given to the lead prosecutor, the Georgia Attorney General’s Office, who will work in partnership with the DeKalb County District Attorney’s Office.

Story from Dec. 13

Protesters camped out in trees where Atlanta plans to build a police training facility said they were attacked Dec. 12 by law enforcement authorities using tear gas and pepper spray.

A Tuesday morning raid near Intrenchment Creek in DeKalb County targeted “tree sitters” who stay in trees to keep them from being razed for new development. The grassroots movement “Defend the Atlanta Forest” said Atlanta Police used “chemical weapons” against the nonviolent tree sitters while they protested peacefully.

Atlanta Police did not respond to a request for comment.

Georgia State Patrol troopers and Atlanta Police Department officers blocked Key Road for awhile on Tuesday to keep people out of the training area site while the apparent raid was occurring.

Courtney Floyd, GSP spokesperson, said in an email the agency “briefly assisted by patrolling the perimeter of the new training center area, but we were not involved in any enforcement operations related to locating or apprehending any suspects.”

“Dekalb County is the lead agency and any questions regarding their operations or events at the site should be referred to them,” Floyd added.

Marlon Kautz of the Atlanta Solidarity Fund, which provides support to those arrested at protests, said his organization confirmed via video footage and witness accounts that police used plastic bullets, tear gas and pepper spray against the tree sitters.

He said one person was arrested and protesters suffered injuries from the tear gas. How many protesters were sitting in trees is not known.

“What we know is that protesters are doing nonviolent, civil disobedience,” Kautz said in an interview at the corner of Boulder Walk Drive and Key Road, near the Boulder Walk subdivision entrance.

A proposed site plan for the Atlanta Public Safety Training Center. Key Road borders the top, Constitution Road toward the bottom. Bouldercrest Road is at the top right.

“They’re sitting in the trees, refusing to come down and are singing protest songs. And they’re being fired on by plastic bullets,” Kautz said.

“This is not the protocol for dealing with nonviolent protesters in Atlanta in 2022,” Kautz said. “This is the kind of thing that you would expect to see in the Deep South in the 1960s. We’re talking about people who are effectively doing nothing more than conducting a sit in to make their voice heard about a political issue that they’re concerned about. And they’re being met with extreme violence with tear gas.”

Kautz also said police detained people attempting to take video recordings of what was happening in the forest. He did not know if they were arrested.

DeKalb County Police blocked West Side Place off Constitution Road to keep people from entering Intrenchment Creek park. At nearby Gresham Park athletic fields on Bouldercrest Road, dozens of DeKalb law enforcement vehicles, including SWAT and bomb squad trucks, filled the parking lot.

DeKalb Police vehicles parked at the Gresham Park athletic fields on Bouldercrest Road.

DeKalb Police at the Gresham Park athletic fields declined to talk about what was described as an “investigation.” The DeKalb Police spokesperson did not respond to a request for comment.

Fore more than a year, activists have been protesting Atlanta’s plans to build a police training center on a portion of hundreds of city-owned land off Key Road in DeKalb County. Some people have constructed platforms in trees in the forest to resist clearcutting for the what they have dubbed “Cop City.”

The protesters call the hundreds of acres near the South River the Weelaunee Forest. This was the name of the land when it was home to the Native American Muscogee Nation before they were driven out. The land is where the Old Atlanta Prison Farm was located.

The City Council last year approved plans to build the $90 million public training facility on 85 acres of city-owned land standing within more than 300 acres of mostly forested land off Key Road in DeKalb County.

Funding to build the facility is being raised from many local corporations by the nonprofit Atlanta Police Foundation, which will lease the land from the city. Taxpayers are expected to pay more than $30 million for the new training center.

The Atlanta Police Foundation has pledged to transform the remaining more than 200 acres of the land into a public park.

Atlanta Police arrested several protesters off Key Road in May after they allegedly threw rocks and Molotov cocktails toward officers.

Last month, Molotov cocktails were thrown toward AT&T workers and a road was blocked with trees that had been chopped down on the property, according to the Saporta Report.

On Dec. 10, protestors threw objects at DeKalb firefighters dispatched to the Key Road site after reports of a dumpster fire.

The Defenda Atlanta Forest movement also includes those who protest DeKalb County’s decision to swap 40 acres of existing parkland at Intrenchment Creek to Blackhall Studios in exchange for 53 acres that the county says it will convert into a new park.

Dyana Bagby

Dyana Bagby is a staff writer for Reporter Newspapers and Atlanta Intown.