A judge last week denied an injunction sought to halt further environmental “destruction” at a controversial property near the site for Atlanta’s proposed public safety training center, saying a stop work order issued by DeKalb County was sufficient to address the matter.
The judge also said keeping left-wing activists away from the site was vital.
DeKalb County Superior Court Judge Stacey Hydrick rebuffed the latest arguments of an attorney for the South River Watershed Alliance, South River Forest Coalition and others behind a lawsuit seeking to reverse a 2021 land swap between the county and Ryan Millsap, the founder of Blackhall Studios.
The 40-acre property in question is the now-former site of Intrenchment Creek Park’s South River trailhead.
In part because of the nature of the transaction, the Millsap property became a secondary target for anarchists, police abolitionists and other left-wing groups trying to stop Atlanta from building its $90-million training center on another, nearby stretch of forest.
The same activists who first took up residence on the training center site more than a year ago also commandeered the land swap property, creating their own makeshift barriers, destroying property and attacking law enforcement and contractors entering the site.
“I think, frankly, the damage that’s been done by those folks who are inhabiting it is far worse than anything that anybody else is doing at this point,” Hydrick said during the Dec. 28 hearing. “And they need to get out of there.”
After law enforcement cleared activists on both sites Dec. 13 — in an operation that resulted in six people being charged with weighty domestic terrorism charges — crews working for Millsap demolished a gazebo, tore up concrete walking paths and cleared trees on the property.
The more mainstream advocacy groups challenging the land swap subsequently asked a judge to issue an injunction halting any further demolition or tree removal on the site. Attorney Kasey Sturm argued that Millsap “has and continues to impede access to public park land and trails as well as destroy public park land, trails, and other amenities, without authority or right to do so.”
While the larger lawsuit challenging the land swap as an “unlawful conversion” of public land is still pending, the transaction was closed in Feb. 2021. Millsap and Blackhall Real Estate Phase II are the current owners of the property.
In a written affidavit submitted to the court ahead of last week’s hearing, Millsap wrote that he’d had underbrush and vegetation cleared in order to “create [a] larger gap of visibility into the property to discourage the Anarchists from returning and to assist law enforcement in being able to see trespassers who might hide and ambush them.”
“We are also tearing down trees in which the Anarchists have constructed their treehouses where they sleep and from which they can attack law enforcement and anyone associated with Blackhall,” Millsap wrote. “We have also removed concrete paths to make traversing the property much less convenient and easy to the Anarchists.”
Sturm, the attorney for the South River advocacy groups, argued in court that Millsap was doing such work without proper permits or permission from the county.
The county seemingly agreed on that end, and it issued a stop work order for the property the night before the hearing. That order — which a county official confirmed was still active Tuesday — cited “land disturbance without a permit” and “illegal tree cutting.”
It said citations could be issued if further activity takes place without proper permitting.
Hydrick said that was enough to address the matter at hand, which she called an issue between DeKalb and Millsap.
The judge said Sturm had also not shown the necessary evidence to prove “irreparable harm,” or that an injunction would serve the public interest — adding that the latter would involve “getting all these folks off this property, first and foremost.”
During court appearances the day prior, the six “forest defenders” charged last month with domestic terrorism were granted bonds ranging from $6,000 to $13,500.
DeKalb jail records showed five of the defendants — Francis Carroll, 22, of Maine; Serena Hertel, 25, of California; Voiselle Leonardo, 20, of Macon; Arieon Robinson, 21, of Wisconsin; and Nicholas Olson, 25, of Nebraska — were released on Dec. 29.
Ariel Ebaugh, 22, of Stockbridge, was released a day later.
All were ordered not to return to the training center site or contact each other, or other activists.
A note of disclosure
The James M. Cox Foundation, the charitable arm of Cox Enterprises which owns The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, has contributed to the training center fundraising campaign. It is among several Atlanta-based foundations that have contributed.
About the Author