Atlanta Police officers stand outside the house on Mayson Avenue where three people were arrested in connection to alleged crimes committed against the planned Atlanta public safety training center. (Photo by Dyana Bagby)

Three people involved in the protests against Atlanta’s planned public safety training center were arrested Wednesday and charged with money laundering and charity fraud, according to the Georgia Bureau of Investigation.

Marlon Scott Kautz, 39, and Adele Maclean, 42, both from Atlanta, and Savannah D. Patterson, 30, of Savannah, were arrested Wednesday morning at what is known as “The Teardown House” at 80 Mayson Ave., near the corner of Hardee Street in the Edgewood community. The house is known as a base for “Defend the Atlanta Forest” activists opposed to the training center, which they call “Cop City.”

The arrests were made by the GBI and Atlanta Police Department. The charges stem “from the ongoing investigation of individuals responsible for numerous criminal acts at the future site of the Atlanta Public Safety Training Center & other metro Atlanta locations,” the GBI said in a news release.

The arrests were praised by Gov. Brian Kemp, who accused Kautz, Maclean and Patterson of being “criminals” who “encouraged and facilitated domestic terrorism.”

Some local elected officials are raising concerns about the arrests. State Sen. Josh McLaurin, whose district includes Sandy Springs and Buckhead, said the criminal legal system cannot be used to “chill lawful protest.”

Atlanta City Councilmember Liliana Bakhtiari, who has publicly expressed her opposition to the training center, raised concerns the arrests could harm Americans’ rights.

“I am deeply concerned that in polarized times, actions like these can inadvertently set new precedents that can jeopardize the rights that we value as Americans,” Bakhtiari said.

“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,” Bakhtiari said. “I will remain transparent and continue asking questions as the facts of the case emerge, and I will remain an impartial resource to all impacted.”

GBI agents and Atlanta Police Department officers executed a search warrant Wednesday and found evidence linking the three suspects to the financial crimes, the GBI said in a news release.

“All three charged will be booked into a local jail and will have a bond hearing scheduled soon,” the GBI said. “This case is being jointly prosecuted by the Georgia Attorney General’s Office and the DeKalb County District Attorney’s Office.”

Arrest warrants from the GBI say Kautz, Maclean and Patterson misled contributors by “using funds collected through a State of Georgia registered 501c(3) Network For Strong Communities (NFSC) to fund the actions in part of Defend the Atlanta Forest (DTAF), a group classified by the United States Department of Homeland Security as Domestic Violent Extremists.”

Network For Strong Communities was founded and registered with the state in 2020 by Kautz, Maclean and Patterson, according to Secretary of State records.

Kautz, Maclean and Patterson are organizers with the Atlanta Solidarity Fund, a nonprofit organization that provides legal support, including bail money, for those arrested during protests. The group has played a role in assisting Defend the Atlanta Forest activists arrested in recent months protesting “Cop City.” Many of those arrested face charges of domestic terrorism.

The GBI alleges Kautz, Maclean and Patterson used money donated to Atlanta-based Network for Strong Communities to pay themselves for things such as more than $100 in camping supplies; reimburse themselves more than $6,600 over two years for items such as gasoline, forest clean up, COVID rapid tests and yard signs; and reimburse more than $400 for holding a town hall meeting.

The GBI also alleges that on May 16, the Network for Strong Communities transferred $48,000 from its account to another nonprofit organization after NFSC was mentioned in a court hearing. The funds were returned to NFSC in what appears to be money laundering, according to the GBI.

The Oregon-based Civil Liberties Defense Center, which offers legal support to activists across the country, has been working with Defend the Atlanta Forest since 2020. The arrests of Kautz, Maclean and Patterson represents an “extreme provocation by Atlanta Police Department and the State of Georgia,” said Executive Director Lauren C. Regan.

“Bailing out protestors who exercise their constitutionally protected rights is simply not a crime,” Regan said. In fact, it is a historically grounded tradition in the very same social and political movements that the city of Atlanta prides itself on. Someone had to bail out civil rights activists in the 60’s — I think we can all agree that community support isn’t a crime.”

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