Multiple pieces of construction equipment were destroyed March 5 at the site of the controversial Atlanta public safety training site in what police are calling a “coordinated attack.”
Twenty-three people allegedly involved in the burning of construction equipment and apparent attacks on police were charged with domestic terrorism by the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, according to a news release from the Atlanta Police Department.
However, Thomas Jurgens, one of the 23, was later identified as an employee at the Southern Poverty Law Center who was at the site volunteering as a legal observer on behalf of the National Lawyers Guild. Jurgens was granted a $5,000 bond by DeKalb County Magistrate Judge A.W. Davis during a March 7 hearing. Davis denied bond for the 22 others facing domestic terrorism charges.
“We are pleased that the DeKalb County assistant district attorney agreed to a consent bond for Tom Jurgens,” SPLC President and CEO Margaret Huang said in a written statement.
“Tom was performing a public service, documenting potential violations of protesters’ rights,” Huang said. “We are outraged that police officers present at the protest refused to acknowledge Tom’s role as a legal observer and instead chose to arrest him. We are confident that the evidence will demonstrate he was a peaceful legal observer.”
Huang added, “The SPLC will continue to reject violence wherever and whenever it occurs. We urge law enforcement officials in Atlanta to de-escalate violence and avoid excessive use of force against protesters.”
The GBI has charged more than a dozen other protesters of what they call “Cop City” with domestic terrorism before these new arrests. The charge is a new tactic that state authorities say is necessary to impose stiffer penalties on protesters who cause violence. But activists say the charges are attempts to stifle protest movements.
This is the full text of a summary report released by the Atlanta Police Department late Sunday night:
On March 5, 2023, a group of violent agitators used the cover of a peaceful protest of the proposed Atlanta Public Safety Training Center to conduct a coordinated attack on construction equipment and police officers. They changed into black clothing and entered the construction area and began to throw large rocks, bricks, Molotov cocktails, and fireworks at police officers.
The agitators destroyed multiple pieces of construction equipment by fire and vandalism. Multiple law enforcement agencies deployed to the area and detained several people committing illegal activity. 35 agitators have been detained so far.
The illegal actions of the agitators could have resulted in bodily harm. Officers exercised restraint and used non-lethal enforcement to conduct arrests.
With protests planned for the coming days, the Atlanta Police Department, in collaboration with law enforcement partners, have a multi-layered strategy that includes reaction and arrest.
The Atlanta Police Department asks for this week’s protests to remain peaceful.
Various groups had called for protests this weekend in the wake of the shooting death of activist Manuel Teran, who was shot at the Key Road property in DeKalb County on Jan. 18 after a confrontation with law enforcement who were clearing protesters from the site. A GBI officer was wounded.
According to WSB, protestors had gathered on the site earlier Sunday for a rally and music festival as part of a “week of mobilization” against the training facility nicknamed “Cop City” by opponents.
One of the autonomous movements that had activists at the site, Defend the Forest, said in an overnight press release that police used “excessive force” and “threatened to shoot people in the park.”
Defend the Forest said a thousand people were on the site over the weekend listening to music and described those who took part in the vandalism as “a separate protest group with hundreds of people” seeking to reclaim the forest as “a public commons through non-violent economic sabotage.”
However, rather than focusing on the protestors causing damage, Defend the Forest said law enforcement “retaliated viciously by raiding the entire forest, arresting at least 35 people at the nearby music festival, including people with no connection to or awareness of the action on the other side of the nearly 600-acre forest.”
Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp said in a Monday morning statement that people involved “chose destruction and vandalism over legitimate protest, yet again demonstrating the radical intent behind their actions.”
“As I’ve said before, domestic terrorism will NOT be tolerated in this state,” Kemp said in the statement. “We will not rest until those who use violence and intimidation for an extremist end are brought to full justice.”
The APD on Monday released the list of 23 people charged with domestic terrorism: Jack Beaman of Georgia; Ayla King of Massachusetts; Kamryn Pipes of Louisiana; Maggie Gates of Indiana; Ehret Nottingham of Colorado; Alexis Paplai of Massachusetts; Timothy Bilodeau of Massachusetts; Victor Puertas of Utah; Dimitri LeNy of France; Amin Chaoui of Virginia; James Marsicano of North Carolina; Samuel Ward of Arizona; Max Biederman of Arizona; Mattia Luini of New York; Emma Bogush of Connecticut; Kayley Meissner of Wisconsin; Luke Harper of Florida; Grace Martin of Wisconsin; Colin Dorsey of Maine; Fredrique Robert-Paul of Canada; Zoe Larmey of Tennessee; Thomas Jurgens of Georgia; and Priscilla Grim of New York.
This is a developing story. Please check back for updates.