More than five dozen activists were indicted on RICO charges last week over the ongoing efforts to halt construction of the city of Atlanta’s planned public safety training center in DeKalb County.
The sweeping indictment, filed in Fulton County, is being prosecuted by the Georgia Attorney General’s Office.
A total of 61 protesters have been charged with violating the state’s Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations act. Some face additional charges of domestic terrorism, arson and money laundering. Most are not from Georgia.
“Our job is to enforce the laws of this state. As you can tell in this indictment, this is about violent acts plain and simple,” Attorney General Chris Carr said in a press conference announcing the indictment.
The indictment mainly focuses on the Defend the Atlanta Forest group, describing it as an Atlanta-based organization that prosecutors say is an “anti-government, anti-police, and anti-corporate extremist organization.”
According to the indictment, the group’s purpose is to occupy parts or all of the 381 forested acres in DeKalb County owned by the city of Atlanta and leased to the Atlanta Police Foundation with the goal of halting the training center construction.
At least six pages of the indictment are used to define “anarchist” in the group’s context.
“As the indictment asserts, members of Defend the Atlanta Forest subscribe to a philosophy of anarchy. They hold a core belief that society should abolish police, government and private business and as further alleged, they’re willing to bring about such changes ‘by any means necessary,’” Carr said.
Prosecutors alleged the Defend the Atlanta Forest movement began in 2020 after the police killings of George Floyd by Minneapolis Police Officers and Rayshard Brooks by Atlanta Police in a Wendy’s Parking lot, which took place months before the training center was announced.
The Cop City Vote Coalition, a group of organizers trying to force a public vote on the training center, released a statement condemning the indictments and accusing Carr of seeking to “intimidate protesters, legal observers, and bail funds alike, and send the chilling message that any dissent to Cop City will be punished with the full power and violence of the government.”
“We will not be intimidated by power-hungry strongmen, whether in City Hall or the Attorney General’s office,” the statement says. “Chris Carr may try to use his prosecutors and power to build his gubernatorial campaign and silence free speech, but his threats will not silence our commitment to standing up for our future, our community, and our city.”
A total of 225 “overt acts” are cited in the indictment — starting with two defendants throwing objects and a Molotov cocktail at the Georgia State Patrol headquarters on July 5, 2020 and ending with incidents that occurred two weeks ago.
Most of the acts mentioned in the indictment involved Marlon Kautz, Adele Maclean and Savannah Patterson transferring money from the Network for Strong Communities to allegedly reimburse and fund those occupying the forest. The three are also accused of being involved, along with unindicted co-conspirators, with threatening and promoting violence and property damage towards companies involved in the construction of the training center.
“While the Network for Strong Communities portrays itself as a legitimate charitable social justice organization, we contend that this group is operating several bank accounts, commingling funds from various causes and raising money to establish and maintain the autonomous zone within the forest,” Carr said.
Credit: John Spink / John.Spink@ajc.com
Credit: John Spink / John.Spink@ajc.com
Most of the monetary transfers cited in the indictment are for nominal amounts of less than $100.
One defendant “received $15.18 in reimbursement from Network for Strong Communities for goods to further living in the forest,” the indictment says. That language is repeated dozens of times.
All three are also accused of posting multiple times on the Scenes from the Atlanta Forest website, which is cited as part of the alleged conspiracy to stop construction. The website is used by opponents of the training facility to claim responsibility for attacks and destruction of property.
The Southern Center For Human Rights issued a statement Tuesday saying they are working to find lawyers for those indicted who do not have counsel.
“We are urgently seeking licensed Georgia attorneys available to represent community members and fulfill our mission to protect the right to dissent,” the statement says.
The five defendants charged with domestic terrorism — Nadja Geier, Madeleine Feola, Emily Murphy, Francis Carroll and Ivan Ferguson — are accused of attempting to “destroy and disable critical infrastructure” by committing arson and setting ablaze Atlanta Police vehicles, a bank and the 191 Peachtree Tower, where the Atlanta Police Foundation is located.
There have been numerous acts of violence and arrests over the past year and half at the training center site.
Arrests date back to July 2020, where Andrew Carlisle was arrested for allegedly vandalizing the GSP headquarters. In May 2022, protesters were taken into custody at the training center site and accused of throwing Molotov cocktails towards officers and causing a small fire as police officers tried to clear the site.
In December, five protesters were charged with domestic terrorism and other offenses after officials alleged they “threw rocks at police cars and attacked EMTs outside the neighboring fire stations with rocks and bottles.”
Protests turned violent in Downtown Atlanta in January, when protesters set a police car on fire and broke businesses windows. Five people were arrested that night and are the only co-defendants in the recent indictment that face charges of domestic terrorism and arson in the first degree, in addition to the RICO charge.
The January protest was in response to the death of Manuel “Tortugita” Teran, who was shot and killed by Georgia State Patrol troopers during a “clearing operation” on Jan. 18. Officials allege Teran shot at officers first, wounding a trooper. The GBI turned over the case file to the Mountain Circuit District Attorney’s Office in April.
The bulk of the defendants named in the indictment are protesters arrested on March 5 at the training center site. Twenty-three protesters were arrested and charged with domestic terrorism after allegedly throwing large rocks, bricks, Molotov cocktails and fireworks at police officers. All 23 only face one count of RICO in the indictment.
Three people accused of handing out flyers in April identifying one of the troopers involved in Teran’s death were also indicted. The flyers were distributed in Bartow County, which is the area where the trooper is believe to live, according to The Intercept.
The indictment also names bail fund organizers, Kautz, Maclean and Patterson, who were arrested in May 2023 during a raid at a home on Mayson Avenue for alleged actions taken as executives with the nonprofit Network for Strong Communities, which supported the nonprofit Defend the Atlanta Forest. All three face one count of RICO and 15 counts of money laundering in the indictment.
In June, DeKalb County District Attorney Sherry Boston announced that she would withdraw her office from prosecuting cases relating to the training center, citing differences in “prosecutorial philosophy” with the AG’s Office.
Deputy Attorney General of the AG’s Prosecution Division John Fowler said they decided to present the case to a Fulton County grand jury because the state’s RICO law allows them to do so based on the location that any of the alleged acts took place. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution was able to confirm that the grand jury that indicted former President Donald Trump and his allies on RICO charges also was involved in this case.
The indictment does not have the names of the grand jurors, which is common practice in Georgia. Fowler declined to comment as to why the names were not part of the indictment.
Carr declined to comment on whether they expect to try the 61 defendants together.
Fulton Superior Court Judge Scott McAfee was originally assigned to the case but an order of recusal was filed by McAfee on Tuesday. According to the order, McAfee regularly collaborated with the Prosecution Division of the Attorney General’s Office during his time at the Georgia Office of the Inspector General, and discussed aspects of the investigation that led to the indictment.
The case has been reassigned to Fulton County Superior Court Judge Kimberly Adams.