Training center activists arraigned, as others protest outside courthouse

Defendants will need to surrender by Tuesday at 10 a.m.
Dozens gather in support of the 61 ‘Cop City’ activists being indicted for racketeering at Fulton County Courthouse on Monday, Nov. 6, 2023. Sixty one (Natrice Miller/ Natrice.miller@ajc.com)

Dozens gather in support of the 61 ‘Cop City’ activists being indicted for racketeering at Fulton County Courthouse on Monday, Nov. 6, 2023. Sixty one (Natrice Miller/ Natrice.miller@ajc.com)

A majority of the 61 defendants charged with violating the state’s RICO act in relation to protests against the Atlanta’s public safety training center made their first court appearance to be arraigned on those charges Monday.

The defendants, some dressed in suits and business attire and others wore casual clothing, were separated into groups of five to stand, along their attorneys, in front of Fulton County Superior Court Judge Kimberly Esmond Adams. One by one, they waived formal arraignment and were given directions to turn themselves in to the Fulton County Jail by 10 a.m. Tuesday.

The indictment was filed in Fulton County on Aug. 29. The majority of the defendants were 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.

The vast majority of those indicted had legal representation but some needed to be qualified through the public defenders office. Only four defendants did not appear.

The state’s Attorney General’s Office, which is prosecuting, did not have an address to send notice to one of the absent defendants, who they believe is in France. A second is under custody of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, while another is out of the country in Canada and is not being allowed back in, her attorney said.

Jamie Marsicano dances into Fulton County Courthouse to be arraigned on Monday, Nov. 6, 2023. Marsicano is one of 61 defendants named in Georgia Attorney General Chris Carr’s RICO indictment against Atlanta Public Safety Center protestors.  (Natrice Miller/ Natrice.miller@ajc.com)

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Judge Adams issued a bench warrant for Abigail Skapyak, after she failed to appear.

The majority of the defendants had already agreed to a $50,000 bond on the RICO charge before appearing Monday. A few of the defendants were already booked and released last week, but the majority still need to be processed.

Failure to do so, Adams said, would result in a warrant being issued and bond being revoked.

Before defendants were brought in, Deputy Attorney General John Fowler told Adams that the state had about 5 terabytes of discovery data for the case and transferring the information to each defendant would take 24 to 48 hours.

Adams ordered all discovery to be shared by the end of the year. All motions will need to be file by March 15, 2024, with final pleas expected to take place by the end of June.

Adams told defendants that she won’t accept any negotiated pleas after June 30, 2024.

Dozens gather in support of the 61 ‘Cop City’ activists being indicted for racketeering at Fulton County Courthouse on Monday, Nov. 6, 2023. Sixty one (Natrice Miller/ Natrice.miller@ajc.com)

Credit: Natrice Miller/AJC

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Credit: Natrice Miller/AJC

Attorney Suri Chadha Jimenez, on behalf of Ayla King, filed a speedy trial demand on Oct. 30. Under Georgia law, a jury has to be seated and sworn into service by the end of the speedy trial deadline. In Fulton County, that’s two terms of court, each of which are about two months long.

On Monday, some attorneys asked the court for an extension of that deadline.

Attorney Amanda Clark Palmer, representing Timothy Bilodeau, said in a statement that the indictment “criminalizes constitutionally protected activity that is at the core of what it means to be an American” and stated that the indictment is “legally invalid” and should be “dismissed before trial.”

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.

The training center has been one of the most divisive issues in the city this year. City officials and the Atlanta Police Foundation say the $90 million facility is key to police and firefighters getting first-rate training to protect citizens. Opponents argue the center will further militarize police, and worry about destruction of the urban forest in which it is being built.

Dozens walk from Underground Atlanta to Fulton County Courthouse in support of the 61 activists indicted for racketeering on Monday, Nov. 6, 2023. Sixty one (Natrice Miller/ Natrice.miller@ajc.com)

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Outside the courthouse, around 100 protesters gathered in support of the activists being arraigned. The crowd cheered as defendants and their families entered the front doors ahead of the hearing. Speakers urged supporters to stand with the training center opponents who face the possibility of lengthy jail sentences.

“We have to stand strong here with our organizers and activists and community members who are now facing legal charges,” said Kamau Franklin, with Community Movement Builders. “Because today it’s them and tomorrow it could be the rest of us.”

Belkis Terán, mother of Manuel ‘Tortuguita’ Terán — the environmental activist fatally shot by police near the construction site DeKalb County — also took to the mic to address protesters. The 26-year-old was shot and killed by Georgia state troopers after Terán first fired shots from inside his tent, according to the Georgia Bureau of Investigation.

“We have to be clear why we are doing this,” she said. “We are going to leave a legacy that Manuel was trying to share with everybody.”

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