Atlanta, GA – Rioters who set up an encampment at the site of a future police and fire training center in protest of the planned facility attacked first responders with bottles and rocks when they came to remove the group’s blockades on Tuesday, according to the Georgia Bureau of Investigation (GBI).
The GBI said a joint task force went to the site on Dec. 13 to take down some of the barricades the group had set up to block entrances to the site, WXIA reported.
When they arrived, rioters confronted them and allegedly “threw rocks at police cars and attacked EMTs outside the neighboring fire stations with rocks and bottles,” according to the GBI.
“Task force members used various tactics to arrest individuals who were occupying makeshift treehouses,” the agency said, according to CNN.
The GBI said the task force located “explosive devices, gasoline, and road flairs” while clearing the area, WXIA reported.
The rioters, who have touted themselves as forest defenders, established the encampment to protest the future training facility they refer to as “Cop City,” WXIA reported.
They have had the semi-permanent encampments at the site for approximately one year.
The group sent out alerts to area media outlets on Tuesday, alleging that officers deployed pepper balls and tear gas on those staying at the encampment.
Police ultimately arrested five rioters, all of whom are now facing domestic terrorism and other charges.
They have been identified as 20-year-old Leonardo Vioselle, 25-year-old Serena Hertel, 25-year-old Nicholas Olson, 22-year-old Francis Carroll, and 22-year-old Arieon Robinson.
Investigators said that at least four of the suspects are from out-of-state.
Hertel is from California, Robinson is from Wisconsin, Olson is from Nebraska, and Carroll is from Maine, according to the GBI.
In addition to the domestic terrorism charges levied against each of the five suspects, Robinson is also facing charges of criminal trespass and obstruction.
Vioselle has been charged with possession of tools for the commission of a crime.
Hertel is facing additional charges of aggravated assault, incident a riot, obstruction, and criminal trespass, WXIA reported.
Olsen was charged with aggravated assault, interference with government property, and obstruction.
Carroll’s additional charges include aggravated assault, felony obstruction, criminal trespass, interference with government property, and possession of tools for the commission of a crime, WXIA reported.
The GBI said there had been multiple recent clashes between the group and police or other public service personnel at the site prior to Tuesday.
“[The Atlanta Police Department] and other agencies had made several arrests over the past few months for the ongoing criminal activity at the site location,” the GBI said, according to WXIA. “Some of the criminal activities include carjacking, various crimes against persons, destruction of property, arson, and attacks against public safety officials. Law enforcement continues to address the criminal acts committed by the individuals that continue to occupy the area of the proposed training site.”
Georgia Governor Brian Kemp said that the rioters’ arrests “should serve as a strong reminder” to anyone threatening the community that the state “will not stop or slow down when it comes to bringing domestic terrorists to justice in Georgia,” WXIA reported.
“I want to commend the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, Atlanta Police Department, FBI, and other law enforcement involved in yesterday’s operation for their courage and professionalism,” Kemp added. “This group will continue to work closely together as we disrupt the entire criminal network and ensure construction for the first responder training facility moves forward.”
The Atlanta Police Foundation (APF) said it plans to build the $90 million, state-of-the-art complex on 85 acres of the site, and that the remaining 180 acres will remain undeveloped, WXIA reported.
The facility will include a burn building, a mock city, and a shooting range, according to CNN.
The demonstrators argued that the project would destroy one of the largest forested areas of the city, and that the land is historically significant to the Muscogee Creek Native Americans who once lived in the area.
The site was also the location of the Old Prison Farm, where unpaid inmates worked the farmland as a “dignified” means of imprisonment, WXIA reported.