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Rioters Attack Atlanta Police, Burn Equipment At Site Of Future Police Training Center

Atlanta, GA – Rioters attacked police with explosives and bricks and set construction equipment ablaze during a “coordinated attack” at the site of the future Public Safety Training Facility on Sunday, according to investigators.

“This was a very violent attack that occurred this evening,” Atlanta Police Chief Darin Schierbaum told reporters, according to WAGA.

Demonstrators have been protesting the training center, which they’ve dubbed “Cop City,” for months.

Security footage released by the Atlanta Police Department (APD) showed the rioters shooting fireworks and various other projectiles at officers as they frantically tried to shut a perimeter gate at the site.

The group also hurled Molotov cocktails, large rocks, and bricks at the officers during the attack, the APD said.

Investigators said the mob of “violent agitators” had attended the South River Music festival nearby prior to changing into black clothing and heading to the site of the future law enforcement training center at around 5:30 p.m., WAGA reported.

The APD said the rioters “used the cover of a peaceful protest” at the training facility “to conduct a coordinated attack on construction equipment and police officers.”

By the time the situation was under control, the rioters had “destroyed multiple pieces of construction equipment” by either vandalizing them or setting them ablaze, the APD said.

Multiple law enforcement agencies responded to the scene to help quell the violence.

The site remained on lockdown as first responders rushed to douse the fires ignited by the group, WAGA reported.

At least 35 suspects have been arrested so far in connection with the mayhem.

“The illegal actions of the agitators could have resulted in bodily harm,” the APD said. “Officers exercised restraint and used non-lethal enforcement to conduct arrests.”

Chief Schierbaum said the rioters’ violent assaults “will not be tolerated,” WAGA reported.

“When you attack law enforcement officers, when you damage equipment – you are breaking the law,” he said.

No officers were injured during the violent clashes, WAGA reported.

Several rioters were treated for minor injuries, according to police.

More protests are slated to take place at the site in the near future.

“With protests planned for the coming days, the Atlanta Police Department, in collaboration with law enforcement partners, has a multi-layered strategy that includes reaction and arrest,” the APD said. “The Atlanta Police Department asks for this week’s protests to remain peaceful.”

The APD said they will have increased patrols in the area of the future training center during the protesters’ avowed “week of action,” WAGA reported.

“Criminal activity will not be tolerated in Atlanta nor tolerated in connection to this project,” Chief Schierbaum said.

Georgia Governor Brian Kemp condemned the rioters’ violent actions and said they have repeatedly placed the surrounding community at risk of harm, WAGA reported.

“They chose destruction and vandalism over legitimate protest, yet again demonstrating the radical intent behind their actions,” Kemp said.

The governor noted that many of the rioters who have been causing problems in the downtown area and at the construction site are from out of state, WAGA reported.

The attack on the officers on Sunday night was “just the latest example of why here in Georgia, we’ll always back the blue,” Kemp added.

“Domestic terrorism will not be tolerated in this state,” he said, according to WAGA. “As we continue to respect peaceful protest, we will also continue to ensure safety in our communities. We will not rest until those who use violence and intimidation for an extremist end are brought to full justice.”

Rioters have been occupying the site of the future police and fire training center for the past year.

The Georgia Bureau of Investigation (GBI) said law enforcement officers were clearing the encampment on Jan. 18 as part of an “operation to identify people who are trespassing and committing other crimes on the property,” when they encountered a man inside one of the tents, FOX News reported.

“Officers gave verbal commands to the man who did not comply and shot a Georgia State Patrol Trooper,” according to the GBI. “Other law enforcement officers returned fire, hitting the man.”

The suspect was pronounced dead at the scene.

He was later identified as 26-year-old Manuel Esteban Paez Teran, who went by the name of “Tortuguita,” WAGA reported.

Investigators said they recovered the suspect’s handgun at the scene, as well as multiple shell casings, FOX News reported.

The injured trooper was evacuated from the area and transported to a local hospital with a gunshot wound to his abdomen.

He underwent emergency surgery and has since been stabilized, the GBI said.

The GBI said ballistic investigators matched the bullet that wounded the trooper to the gun Teran used during the shootout, WAGA reported.

Investigators said they located and removed approximately 25 campsites during the Jan. 18 sweep.

“Additionally, mortar style fireworks, multiple edged weapons, pellet rifles, gas masks, and a blow torch were recovered,” the GBI noted.

Police arrested seven rioters in connection with the Jan. 18 incident.

GBI Director Michael Register said the encampment has been an ongoing problem and that the rioters are “endangering the community and the citizens around this area,” FOX News reported.

Rioters called for violence against police in the wake of the shooting, with several groups rallying followers on social media, according to the news outlet.

A post on the Scenes from the Atlanta Forest Twitter page urged people to participate in a “Night of Rage” on Jan. 20, FOX News reported.

The post encouraged followers to carry out “reciprocal violence” on “police and their allies,” according to the news outlet.

“Consider this a call for reciprocal violence to be done to the police and their allies,” the post read. “On Friday, January 20th, wherever you are, you are invited to participate in a night of rage in order to honor the memory of our fallen comrade.”

The group made a similar post on its website on Jan. 18.

“The worst has come to pass. An unnamed forest defender has been shot and killed in Weelaunee,” the call to action read. “Consider this a call for reciprocal violence to be done to the police and their allies. On Friday, January 20th, wherever you are, you are invited to participate in a night of rage in order to honor the memory of our fallen comrade. Love and rage Defend the Atlanta Forest.”


The group has claimed it is affiliated with the Defend the Atlanta Forest group, which has played a major role in the encampment and the ongoing problems there, FOX News reported.

“Our officers are on high alert, and we will continue our work to keep our streets safe for our residents, businesses, and visitors alike,” police said in a statement to WSB. “We remain in close contact with our local, state, and federal law enforcement partners and are grateful for their commitment to our shared goal of creating the safest communities possible for our city.”

A joint task force comprised of the GBI, Georgia Attorney General’s Office, Atlanta Police Department, Georgia State Patrol, DeKalb County District Attorney’s Office, DeKalb County Police Department, Georgia Emergency Management Agency, Department of Natural Resources, and the Federal Bureau of Investigation has been working for months to combat the occupation of the site and the ongoing illegal activities occurring there, according to the news outlet.

Eight rioters were arrested at the property in May of 2022 after throwing a Molotov cocktail at officers while they were trying to remove them, CNN reported.

Vandals destroyed surveillance cameras in the area a couple months later, then someone fired shots on the technician who showed up to repair them, according to WAGA.

In August of 2022, law enforcement officers were seen standing guard while Georgia Power repaired a damaged transformer at the property.

Police and construction crews had gotten into a confrontation with rioters there earlier in the week, according to WAGA.

Construction equipment at the site went up in flames the following month.

When the task force went to the property on Dec. 13, 2022, to take down some of the barricades the group had set up to block entrances to the site, 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.

Police ultimately arrested five rioters during the December confrontation, all of whom are now facing domestic terrorism and other charges.

The GBI said there had been multiple recent clashes between the group and police or other public service personnel at the site prior to the arrests made in December.

“[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.”

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.

Written by
Holly Matkin

Holly is a former probation and parole officer who is married to a sheriff’s deputy. She is a regular contributor to Signature Montana magazine, and has written feature articles for Distinctly Montana magazine.

View all articles
Written by Holly Matkin


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