OPINION: Countdown to training center vote brings more drama

Atlanta Police Officers and GBI agents were at the Teardown House on Mayson Avenue in Atlanta conducting a search warrant. Three people were arrested and charged with crimes related to the Atlanta Public Safety Center.

Credit: John Spink / John.Spink@ajc.com

Credit: John Spink / John.Spink@ajc.com

Atlanta Police Officers and GBI agents were at the Teardown House on Mayson Avenue in Atlanta conducting a search warrant. Three people were arrested and charged with crimes related to the Atlanta Public Safety Center.

The Atlanta police paddy wagon with 10 or so heavily armored cops rolled up last week on the gaily painted and graffitied bungalow. They were on a mission. What exactly that mission was is the point of some deep and irretractable societal and political differences.

Authorities say the so-called “Teardown House” in Atlanta’s Edgewood neighborhood was the financial hub and brain trust for violent and illegal protests, especially those focused on deep-sixing Atlanta’s proposed Public Safety Training Center.

The “Stop Cop City” crowd and other civil rights organizations, like the ACLU, claim it’s an iron-fisted ploy by The Power Elite to intimidate the movement and thwart the intense protests against the facility.

The owners of the house run an organization with several do-gooder aims, like feeding the homeless, spurring social activism and bonding out protestors who get arrested. A non-profit filing said that organization had about $3.5 million in funds in December 2021.

That can fund a lot of good — or mayhem — depending on which side of debate you stand.

The fading home, painted green and purple, had some monikers scrawled upon it, leaving no doubt about the owners’ views: An anarchist symbol, “Stop Gentrification,” “Black Lives Matter,” as well as a spray-painted taunt — “Make my Day, Pig.” A small sign on the storm door said, “Come back with a warrant.”

Police did.

A photo provided by the Atlanta Police Department shows vehicles burning after hundreds of activists breached the site of a proposed police and fire training center in Atlanta’s wooded outskirts on Sunday, March 5, 2023, burning police and construction vehicles and a trailer, and setting off fireworks toward officers stationed nearby. The destruction occurred on the second day of what is supposed to be a weeklong series of demonstrations to protest the building of the Atlanta Public Safety Training Center, a planned 85-acre campus owned by the city and derivisely called Cop City by opponents. (City of Atlanta Police Department via The New York Times) — NO SALES; EDITORIAL USE ONLY—

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The raid occurred five days before the Atlanta City Council votes Monday to fund the deeply controversial training center.

When I heard about the raid, I was surprised. The city has been ham-fisted so far in pushing through the $90 million, 85-acre facility on the site of Atlanta’s defunct prison farm in south DeKalb County. Why on earth would they conduct a heavy-handed raid and kick a hornet’s nest, especially when it was already buzzing?

Well, city officials didn’t know about the raid until the last minute, I’m told. The investigation into alleged money laundering and domestic terrorism ties by the home’s occupants has been conducted by the state Attorney General’s office. Atlanta police conducted the raid because it’s in their jurisdiction and because its officers wear body cams.

There have been whispers at City Hall that vandalism — or worse — has been planned for Monday. Maybe authorities were playing on those fears for the raid. Or perhaps the aim is to tie up Stop Cop City members with charges and have them take their eye off the ball at a key time.

Or maybe Attorney General Chris Carr, presumed to be a future Republican gubernatorial candidate, has determined you can’t go wrong going after Atlanta lefties.

The owners of the home, Marlon Scott Kautz, 39, and Adele Maclean, 42, — along with occupant Savannah D. Patterson, 30, of Savannah — were each charged with counts of money laundering and charity fraud. They allegedly funneled money from the nonprofit Network for Strong Communities to support Defend the Atlanta Forest, “a group classified by the United States Department of Homeland Security as Domestic Violent Extremists,” according to arrest warrants.

Homeland Security made that determination May 24, one day before investigators took out a warrant in this case.

At Friday’s hearing, state prosecutor John Fowler asked that the trio be held without bond, even though they are not charged with committing a violent crime. But after hearing arguments from Fowler and defense attorney Don Samuel, Magistrate Judge James Altman ordered them each released on $15,000 bond.

“There’s not a lot of meat on the bones” of the case linking non-profit money to illegal activities, the judge said.

Fowler tried to weave together several acts of violent protest in the past few years. For instance, he said one of the people fire-bombing the state public safety center in 2020 was also involved with vandalizing Ebenezer Baptist Church.

He said one of the extremists tried to break into a building at 191 Peachtree St with accelerant, attempting to start a fire. The building houses the Atlanta Police Foundation, which is behind the training center.

The prosecutor said that frustrated vandal was overheard on a phone call complaining there were too many peaceful protestors and not enough firebrands like himself. “There’s too many peaceniks getting involved and it’s messing up the movement,” Fowler said, quoting the would-be firebomber.

All may be true, but Samuel said there was no direct proof linking his clients with all that.

Fowler also said a diary of one of those arrested was pulled from their trash and detailed how to “radicalize liberals.” He also said the search found how-to manuals showing ways to destroy stuff and hurt people and get away with it.

However, the prosecution didn’t do well to tie the nasty, violent stuff to those living in the colorful house.

Samuel has added another “R” to his client repertoire of high-profile conspiracy cases. In the past year, he’s represented a rapper, some Republicans concerning Fulton’s election case and now he can add Radicals.

Samuel, in a winning argument to get his clients sprung, noted one of the “illegal” expenditures was for yard signs.

“I’m concerned about blurring the First Amendment,” he said. “You can hate the government without spending time in DeKalb County jail.”

He noted an orange-haired former president is quite the government-hater himself.