Domestic terrorism charges rare in DeKalb County

A protestor is arrested in downtown Atlanta Jan. 21 at a protest over the shooting death of 26-year-old Manuel Teran, or “Tortuguita.” Five others were also arrested and now face domestic terrorism charges. (Chamian Cruz/WABE)

DeKalb County charged fourteen people over the last couple months with domestic terrorism for their involvement in protests at the site of Atlanta’s proposed public safety training facility.

It’s a rare charge for the county – these charges are the first time the DeKalb County District Attorney brought domestic terrorism cases in at least the last decade. 

The first arrests were in December – they were of protestors who lived in the forest and cleared out during a multi-agency operation. 

DeKalb charged six people with domestic terrorism for their relationship to the overall “Defend the Atlanta Forest” movement, throwing rocks and bottles at public safety officials, and setting fire to property and other acts of vandalism. 

In January, another multi-agency clearing operation ended when state troopers exchanged gunfire with a protestor and shot and killed Manuel Teran, known as “Tortuguita.” After that raid, another eight were charged with domestic terrorism. 

These charges were shocking to advocates.

“We’ve never seen anything like this,” said Marlon Kautz who works with the Atlanta Solidarity Fund, a group that provides resources for people arrested while protesting. He said typically, they see protestors charged with disorderly conduct, or disrupting traffic.

“Honestly, I never really thought that I would see anything like this in Atlanta,” he said. “A city which kind of prides itself on its legacy of civil rights, protests and its commitment to upholding the rights of process.”

Records from the DeKalb County District Attorney’s office show in the last 10 years, the only domestic terrorism charges in the county were the 14 protestors arrested in the forest during the span of about one month. 

A spokesperson from the DAs office declined to comment on why these charges applied to the protestors because the cases are still open. Protestors have also been arrested and charged with domestic terrorism in Fulton County.

The Georgia Bureau of Investigation is involved in multiple investigations regarding the so-called “Cop City.” The bureau did not provide someone for comment on their role in the DeKalb County charges. 

Last month, Governor Brian Kemp called the protestors militant activists and said in a tweet that domestic terrorism would not be tolerated in Georgia.