5 protesters arrested at Atlanta police training center

Five people arrested earlier this week at the site of a planned police training center in DeKalb County had their first court appearance on Thursday. They face charges including domestic terrorism. (Matt Pearson/WABE)

Five people arrested on charges including domestic terrorism as authorities tried to remove the protesters from the site of a planned public safety training center will remain in custody without bond, a prosecutor said Thursday.

The arrests happened as agents from the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, Atlanta police officers, and other state and local law enforcement officers removed barricades blocking some entrances to the site, the GBI said in a news release.

The five people arrested had their first court appearance on Thursday, and DeKalb County District Attorney Sherry Boston said in a news release that they will remain in custody. They range in age from 20 to 25, and only one is a Georgia resident, according to the release.

“I strongly believe in the right to peacefully protest for what one believes is right and just,” Boston said in the release. “However, I draw the line at violence, destruction of property, and threatening and causing harm to others.”

Opponents of the training center have been protesting for months by building platforms in surrounding trees and camping out at the site. They say that the $90 million project, which would be built by the Atlanta Police Foundation, involves cutting down so many trees that it would be environmentally damaging. They also oppose investing so much money in what they call “Cop City,” which they say will be used to practice “urban warfare.”

The 85-acre property is owned by the city of Atlanta but is located just outside the city limits in unincorporated DeKalb County, and includes a former state prison farm.

Prior to Tuesday’s arrests, police had arrested several people in recent months because of “ongoing criminal activity” at the site, including carjacking, destruction of property, arson and attacks on public safety officials, the GBI said.

Just as an attempt was made to remove barricades blocking entrances to the site, firefighters and police officers were attacked with rocks and incendiary weapons, Boston said. Once the area was cleared, police found explosive devices, gasoline and road flairs, the GBI said.

In an email to news outlets, opponents of the training facility said that police used “extreme and unjustified measures” against them, including “tear gas canisters and pepper bullets.”

The Atlanta City Council voted in September 2021 to lease the land to the Atlanta Police Foundation. The training center would include a shooting range, classrooms, a mock village, an emergency vehicle driving course, stables for police horses, and a “burn building” for firefighters to practice putting out fires. The vote came after weeks of protest from people who oppose the complex.