Training center activists claim responsibility for arson at concrete business

$10K reward offered for arrest in Gwinnett fire
Multiple work vehicles owned by Ernst Concrete were found burning behind the Gwinnett County business Tuesday.

Credit: Gwinnett County Fire and Emergency Services

Credit: Gwinnett County Fire and Emergency Services

Multiple work vehicles owned by Ernst Concrete were found burning behind the Gwinnett County business Tuesday.

An anonymous faction of activists opposed to Atlanta’s planned fire and police training center have claimed responsibility for a fire that burned multiple vehicles at a concrete business in Gwinnett County on Tuesday morning.

“Twelve cement trucks were destroyed in the last 48 hours. They burned them to a crisp,” Simon H. Bloom, an attorney for the Atlanta Police Foundation, said Wednesday during legal arguments over an attempt by the South River Watershed Alliance to halt construction at the training center site, claiming harmful sediment is entering nearby Intrenchment Creek.

The company that was targeted by the fire, Ernst Concrete, told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution late Wednesday that it is not involved in the construction of the training facility.

U.S. District Judge J.P. Boulee didn’t rule Wednesday but indicated the environmental group’s lawsuit against Atlanta and the police foundation is a misguided attack on the permit issued for the development by the Georgia Environmental Protection Division. The city and foundation appeared to be in full compliance with the permit, first issued in 2018 and recently renewed, the judge said.

Bloom argued that halting construction could invite more violence and damage.

“We’ve already seen in the past year death, injury and destruction,” Bloom said during the hearing. “If the project stops for a day, with the power of the internet and the power of the cellphone, we will have war again on that property.”

A protester who authorities say fired first was shot and killed at the site in January. The officers involved won’t face charges, George Christian, DA pro tempore for the Stone Mountain Judicial Circuit, announced following an investigation.

Firefighters responded to the 500 block of Seaboard Industrial Drive around 2:40 a.m. Tuesday and found work vehicles owned by Ernst Concrete burning behind the business, Gwinnett fire spokesman Capt. Ryan McGiboney said. The flames did not reach any of the structures, but officials said crews had to deploy several hoses to battle the fire, which was extinguished shortly before 3:10 a.m. No injuries were reported.

McGiboney confirmed the department is aware that activists have claimed responsibility, but said authorities are investigating all possible suspects. Atlanta police are also monitoring the incident and working closely with investigating agencies.

An online post titled “Make Contractors Afraid Again” read, in part, “We placed incendiary devices and kindling near the engine block, the fuel tank behind it, and the double rear tires. We encourage further experimentation with incendiary placement.”

The post included details about Ernst facilities throughout the country. A spokesperson told the AJC that the company is “not the concrete foundation company for the Atlanta Public Safety Training Center” and that Ernst only supplied two loads of concrete for a road surrounding the facility at the request of a local customer.

“This gives credence to the notion that at least aspects of the protesters are willing to resort to violence, are willing to resort to criminal activity. And it gives credence to some of the RICO charges that have been filed,” said Atlanta Police Foundation Vice President Rob Baskin, referring to charges filed by the Georgia Attorney General’s Office.

City officials say the center will mean world-class training for officers and firefighters who are using outdated facilities. Opponents say it will militarize police and deforest a large wooded tract.

This week’s arson followed a four-day event at the site that ended with a march Monday.

Several hundred activists took over city streets until being dispersed by DeKalb County police officers in riot gear with armored vehicles, tear gas and flash-bang grenades. Ahead of the march, participants signed a pledge not to use incendiary devices, weapons or destroy construction equipment.

Sam Beard is a spokesman for Block Cop City, which organized the weekend events and Monday’s march.

“The Clean Water Act enforcement lawsuit and the anonymous action that took place against Ernst Concrete are separate, inspiring contributions to the movement to Stop Cop City,” he said. “Neither the lawsuit nor action have any connection to the Block Cop City mobilization, but all are contributing to the same important goal.”

Last year, the home of an Alabama construction executive was vandalized after activists vowed to use extreme — and sometimes violent — tactics to pressure those linked to the facility. Authorities have also investigated incidents including the vandalizing of offices, destruction of equipment and threats to contractors. Earlier this year, several motorcycles were torched at the Atlanta Police Training Academy.

Construction of the new training center remains on track and is expected to be completed by the end of 2024.

“The people who committed this violence, whoever they may be, are not peaceful dissenters,” Atlanta Mayor Andre Dickens said after a number of incidents this summer. “These are the actions of blatantly outrageous, dangerous and violent criminals. When you engage in violence, you put others in harm’s way. We will not allow anyone to do that in our city without repercussions.”

Georgia Arson Control is offering a $10,000 reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of those responsible for this week’s incident. Tipsters can call Gwinnett fire at 678-518-4890 or the Georgia Arson Control Hotline at 800-282-5804.

In the early hours of this morning, our crews in Lawrenceville battled a fire that was caused by arson. For more details, please visit

Posted by Gwinnett County Fire and Emergency Services on Tuesday, November 14, 2023