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Criminal Justice

Key Dates and Moments in Atlanta’s ‘Cop City’ Controversy

The intense public debate over the planned public safety training center has been going on for years.

Demonstrators gather outside of Atlanta's City Hall on Tuesday, Jan. 31, 2023, as local officials announce they are moving forward with plans to build the Atlanta Public Safety Training Center. The protesters have called for officials to abandon plans for the project which they derisively call Cop City. (AP Photo/R.J. Rico)

The latest chapter in Atlanta’s yearslong public safety training center saga begins this week and tensions at City Hall couldn’t be much higher.

The Atlanta City Council is scheduled to vote on legislation that would transfer millions of taxpayer dollars to the Atlanta Police Foundation to pay for construction of the training center that opponents have nicknamed “Cop City.”

Supporters of the proposed 85-acre facility — set to be built outside city limits in a portion of the South River Forest, located in southern DeKalb County — argue it will give local police and fire personnel a better, more cost-effective place to train.

Opponents say the center will be bad for the environment, encroach on sacred       Native American land, and create a new generation of officers who may go on to commit acts of police brutality. Critics also contend a majority of Atlanta residents don’t want their tax dollars used to help build the training center.

The anticipated vote comes less than two weeks after Atlanta government officials confirmed taxpayers will have to pay more than twice as much as their leaders originally said they would to build the training facility if council elects to fund it.

The funding vote will take place some time after 1 p.m. today inside City Hall during the council’s regularly scheduled meeting. The general public can attend in person or watch online, but those planning to make the trip downtown should be prepared for large crowds and long lines.

Hundreds of people stood in line for hours May 15 when the 16-member council introduced its training center funding legislation. Nearly 300 people signed up in advance to speak during the meeting’s public comment section, which took more than seven hours.

Atlanta government officials have temporarily closed a number of offices at City Hall in anticipation of protests and related “security concerns.” The move came days after the arrests of three nonprofit leaders reportedly affiliated with Defend the Atlanta Forest, a group authorities say is responsible for acts of violence committed at the training center site, and the Atlanta Solidarity Fund, an organization that raises bail money for protesters.

Authorities accused the three leaders of financial crimes related to an investigation into criminal acts allegedly committed previously by anti-training center protesters.

Want to know when and how this all began? We’ve got you covered. Below is a quick rundown of key dates and moments in the “Cop City” controversy.

Early 1800s

The American government forces the Muscogee people, a Native American tribe, to leave their homes in the Weelaunee Forest, now known as the South River Forest, to settle farther west.

Jan. 15, 2003

DeKalb County government receives roughly 136-acres of forest from the Trust for Public Land, a national nonprofit with offices in Atlanta, to create a park for public use known as Intrenchment Creek Park. The land was given to DeKalb with the stipulation that it “shall be used in perpetuity as park property,” according to a lawsuit. The forest was connected to an abandoned, city-owned prison complex called the Old Atlanta Prison Farm that industrial polluters often used as an illegal dumping ground

October 2017

The Atlanta Police Foundation unveils its “Vision Safe Atlanta – Public Safety Action Plan,” which explains the need for a new public safety training venue and reserves 150 acres of the DeKalb County property for the proposed training center.

March 31, 2021

Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms discusses crime in her State of the City address and announces a collaboration with corporate and philanthropic partners to build a “top-notch” public safety training center.

April 12, 2021

 In this aerial view, land owned by the city of Atlanta for the site of Cop City is shown in unincorporated DeKalb County.  (Danny Karnik/Associated Press)

Atlanta Police Foundation unveils the first renderings of the proposed training center on 150 acres of the old Atlanta Prison Farm. They include plans for shooting ranges, classrooms, recruit housing, a burn building, space for explosion tests, a kennel for canine units, and public green space.

April 24, 2021

Defend The Atlanta Forest, a group that opposes the public safety training center, creates an Instagram account and starts hosting learning sessions and events at Intrenchment Creek Trail. The group’s account later explains protesters’ occupation of the forest over the course of the next 18 months.

June 7, 2021

Atlanta City District 12 Council member Joyce Sheperd introduces legislation authorizing the mayor to lease 150 acres of the Atlanta Prison Farm to the Atlanta Police Foundation for a new public safety training center.

Aug. 10, 2021

An amendment to the original legislation reduces the amount of forest land from 150 acres to 85 acres.

Aug. 19, 2021

An Instagram account, @stopcopcity, is created, promoting marches, encouraging followers to put pressure on the City Council and corporations supporting the training center, such as Coca-Cola. The account will go on to detail protesters’ occupation of the forest over the next year and a half.

Sept. 8, 2021

Council votes to authorize the lease ordinance after more than 17 hours of public comment, mostly from opponents of the project. The office of former Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms issues a press release saying the city will contribute to paying for the $90 million facility through “a 30-year $1 million per year lease starting in FY24 or a single contribution through a general obligation bond.”

April 18, 2022

The Atlanta Police Foundation announces the training center is on track to open by Q4, 2023.

May 17, 2022

Police arrest eight protesters while attempting to clear them from part of the South River Forest. Authorities accused some of the demonstrators of throwing Molotov cocktails.

Dec. 15, 2022

Police arrest and charge five protesters with domestic terrorism. A week later, crews begin demolition at Intrenchment Creek Park. A few days after that, activists return and rebuild their camps.

Jan. 18, 2023

Environment activist Manuel “Tortuguita” Terán, is fatally shot by Georgia State Patrol. Authorities stated officers returned fire after Terán shot a state trooper in the abdomen. Activists said they think the trooper was hit by “friendly fire.”

Jan. 21, 2023

Terán’s death is followed by downtown Atlanta protests. Police later arrest and charge six people with domestic terrorism after some of the demonstrators destroyed property.

Jan. 26, 2023

Gov. Brian Kemp mobilizes the National Guard in response to ongoing protests after declaring a state of emergency.

Jan. 31, 2023

During a City Hall press conference, Mayor Andre Dickens and DeKalb County CEO Michael Thurmond announce a memorandum of understanding that includes specific environmental protections to move forward with the construction of the public safety training center.

Feb. 8, 2023

Atlanta Police release Jan. 18 body cam footage that doesn’t show Terán getting shot, but does contain audio of gunshots and officers’ reaction to the shooting.

March 5, 2023

Construction equipment is set on fire at the training center site, leading to the arrest of 35 protesters.

March 6, 2023

More protesters are arrested and charged with domestic terrorism. Opponents later characterize the charges as a scare tactic designed to intimidate demonstrators.

April 4, 2023

Political activist Angela Davis announces plans to return a City of Atlanta award in solidarity with the Stop Cop City movement.

April 19, 2023

A DeKalb County Medical Examiner autopsy determines Terán received at least 57 gunshot wounds, causing their death.

May 15, 2023

District 9 Council member Dustin Hillis introduces an ordinance that would transfer $30 million from the city’s general fund to help the Atlanta Police Foundation pay for construction of the training center.

The legislation also authorizes an additional $1 million in public safety impact fees to build a gymnasium at the facility, and grants the mayor the authority to enter a “lease-back agreement” with the foundation. The terms of that agreement say the city will pay the police foundation $1.2 million a year for 30 years.

May 24, 2023

Midtown Atlanta resident Joetta Burnette holds a protest sign ahead of a press conference outside City Hall ahead of an Atlanta City Council Finance Committee procedural vote to advance funding legislation for a new public safety training center that critics have nicknamed “Cop City” on May 24, 2023. (Chauncey Alcorn/Capital B Atlanta)

The Atlanta Community Press Collective is the first to report that Atlanta taxpayers will be responsible for paying substantially more to build the training center than city officials had said previously due to a lease-back agreement provision in the funding ordinance.

The nonprofit news outlet’s reporting was cited by multiple Stop Cop City movement supporters who spoke at an Atlanta City Council Finance Committee meeting later the same day. The training center opponents urged members of the committee not to advance the council’s training center funding ordinance. The committee ultimately voted 5-1 to advance the legislation.

May 26, 2023

City officials confirm to Capital B Atlanta via email that a 2021 press release about funding for the training center incorrectly stated that the city would contribute to the project through either “a 30-year $1 million per year lease starting in FY24” or “a single contribution through a general obligation bond.”

Police department spokesperson Chata M. Spikes confirmed via email that the release should have stated that the city would contribute both forms of payment, not one or the other, characterizing it as a mistake made by former Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms’ office.

“We can’t speak to the reason why ‘or’ was utilized versus the word ‘and,’” Spikes said in her email.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported the same day that the public cost of the training center would be double what the city previously stated it would, while noting that “a source in City Hall said the deal has been misrepresented to the public.”

May 31, 2023

Law enforcement officers raid an Edgewood neighborhood home reportedly owned by Network for Strong Communities nonprofit executives Marlon Scott Kautz, 39, and Adele Maclean, 42. Network for Strong Communities is affiliated with the Atlanta Solidarity Fund. 

Both Kautz and Maclean were arrested along with Savannah D. Patterson, 30, of Savannah, Georgia. They were charged with money laundering and charity fraud in connection with an investigation of individuals accused of committing “criminal acts” at the training center’s build site and other metro Atlanta locations.
The arrests sent shockwaves through the local civil rights community, drawing concern from U.S. Sens. Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock, as well as condemnation from leaders of several organizations that raise bail money for protesters.