RICO trial for 19-year-old 'Cop City' protester delayed indefinitely

"Stop Cop City" protesters march near the Fulton County courthouse in Downtown Atlanta on August 14, 2023. (Matthew Pearson/WABE)

This story was updated at 10:47 a.m.

The first person to be tried in a sweeping racketeering case related to protests over Atlanta’s controversial public safety training center was due in Fulton County Superior Court on Wednesday. But a judge dismissed the jury, delaying the trial indefinitely to allow the defense to appeal a motion to dismiss the case that was denied earlier this week.

Ayla King, who uses they/them pronouns, is among 61 defendants accused of being a part of a well-organized conspiracy to halt the construction of the 85-acre, multimillion-dollar police and fire training facility, called “Cop City” by protesters.

The 19-year-old from Massachusets is the only defendant so far to be granted their demand for a speedy trial, which is expected to last up to eight weeks.

In March, King was arrested while attending a music festival, where more than 150 masked protesters allegedly fled after chasing off police and torching construction equipment near the construction site.

Prosecutors with Georgia Attorney General Chris Carr’s office have previously admitted difficulty in proving that many of those arrested were the same people who took part in the violence.

But in August, King was indicted on a single Racketeering Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, or RICO, charge along with the other defendants. Several others are also facing additional charges like domestic terrorism, money laundering and arson.

A jury has already been seated in King’s case. They have pleaded not guilty.

Fulton County Superior Court Judge Kimberly Esmond Adams is presiding. In December, she issued a gag order preventing attorneys from discussing the case.

Critics say it could have major free speech implications.

Meanwhile, the project’s construction is ongoing. The first phase is slated to open by the end of the year. It’ll include a shooting range, a mock village and a burn center. 

While supporters say it’s intended to replace the city’s current outdated and inadequate training facilities, protesters have been saying for more than two years now that they worry it will further militarize police and impact the environment in an area surrounded by low-income, majority-Black neighborhoods.

A legal battle related to an effort to force a citywide referendum on the issue is still pending.

The issue also gained national attention last year after state troopers shot and killed environmental activist Manuel “Tortuguita” Paez Teran. The upcoming anniversary of Teran’s death and the start of King’s trial are expected to spark more protests in the coming days.