In Georgia, 61 people have been charged with racketeering following a long-running state investigation into protests against a proposed police and training facility in the Atlanta area, dubbed “Cop City” by critics.
The sweeping charges were brought by Republican Attorney General Chris Carr. Prosecutors allege the defendants were “militant anarchists” who supported a violent movement that prosecutors trace to widespread racial justice protests in 2020. The protests erupted after the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis in May 2020 and the police killing of Rayshard Brooks in Atlanta in June 2020. These events preceded the public announcement of the planned training center by months.
The “Stop Cop City” effort has been ongoing for more than two years and has at times resulted in vandalism and violence. Opponents say they fear the Atlanta-area training center will lead to greater police militarization and that its construction will worsen environmental damage in a poor, majority-black area. The Aug. 29 indictment under the state crime statute was released Tuesday by Fulton County officials.
Charges have already been brought against the majority of the defendants for their alleged involvement in the movement. They include more than three dozen people facing domestic terrorism charges in connection with violent protests, three bail fund leaders accused of money laundering and three activists accused of intimidation after authorities said they distributed leaflets, in which a state trooper was labeled an “A” “murderer” for his involvement in the fatal shooting of an environmental protester in the woods.
To link the defendants to the alleged conspiracy, prosecutors have made a slew of allegations – from possessing accelerant and throwing Molotov cocktails at police officers to reimbursing glue and food for the activists who spent months in the woods site camped near the structure.
Activists leading an ongoing referendum effort against the project immediately condemned the allegations, calling them “anti-democratic.”
“Chris Carr may seek to use his prosecutors and his power to expand his gubernatorial campaign and silence free speech, but his threats will not silence our commitment to stand up for our future, our community and our city,” the Cop City Vote coalition said in a statement.
Protests against the training center escalated after 26-year-old protester Manuel Esteban Paez Terán, known as Tortuguita, was fatally shot in January. The Georgia Bureau of Investigation said state troopers fired in self-defense after Paez Terán shot at them while clearing protesters from a wooded area near the site of the proposed facility. But the police officers involved were not wearing body cameras and activists have questioned the official account.
Atlanta Mayor Andre Dickens and others say the 85-acre, $90 million facility would replace inadequate training facilities and help address difficulties in recruiting and retaining police officers following nationwide protests against Police brutality and racial injustice had intensified three years ago.
The “Stop Cop City” campaign, which has been joined by activists from across the country, has been running for more than two years. Opponents say they fear the training center will lead to greater police militarization and that its construction will worsen environmental damage in a poor, majority-black area.
Numerous cases of violence and vandalism have been linked to the decentralized movement, including a January protest in downtown Atlanta in which a police car was set on fire, as well as an attack in March in which more than 150 masked protesters attacked police At the construction site, construction equipment was chased away and burned before fleeing and mingling with the crowd at a nearby music festival. Those two cases have led to dozens of people being charged with domestic terrorism, although prosecutors have previously admitted they had difficulty proving that many of those arrested were actually those involved in the violence.
RICO charges carry a high penalty that can be added to the punishment for the underlying offenses.
Georgia’s RICO law, passed in 1980, makes it a crime to engage in, gain control of, maintain control of, or conspire to engage in a “pattern of racketeering activity” in an “enterprise.”
“Extortion activities” are the commission, attempt to commit, or solicitation, coercion, or intimidation of another person to commit one of more than three dozen state crimes listed in the statute. At least two such acts are required to meet the standard of a “pattern of racketeering activity,” meaning prosecutors must prove that a person committed two or more related crimes as part of their involvement in an enterprise in order to be convicted under RICO to become .
The case was initially assigned to Fulton County Superior Court Judge Scott McAfee. He was in charge of the extortion case that Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis recently brought against former President Donald Trump and 18 others. But McAfee declined, saying he had worked with prosecutors on the case before becoming a judge. Fulton County Superior Court Judge Kimberly Esmond Adams is now overseeing the case.