Police in Atlanta arrest 3 behind bail fund supporting protests against police training complex
Police on Wednesday arrested three key Atlanta organizers who have been aiding protesters against the city's proposed police and fire training center, striking at the structure that supports the fight against what opponents derisively call "Cop City."
The Georgia Bureau of Investigation announced its agents and Atlanta police had arrested three officers of the group that runs the Atlanta Solidarity Fund, which has bailed out protesters and helped them find lawyers.
Charged with money laundering and charity fraud are Marlon Scott Kautz, 39, of Atlanta; Savannah D. Patterson, 30, of Savannah; and Adele MacLean, 42, of Atlanta.
State investigators said they found evidence linking all three to the alleged financial crimes after executing warrants Wednesday morning at a house owned by Kautz and MacLean that is emblazoned with anti-police graffiti in an otherwise gentrified neighborhood east of downtown Atlanta.
The Associated Press wasn't immediately able to obtain copies of arrest warrants or locate lawyers for the three. Kautz and MacLean did not respond to calls and texts.
Prosecutors said the three would likely make their initial appearances before a judge on Thursday.
MacLean, Kautz and Patterson are respectively the CEO, chief financial officer and secretary of the Network for Strong Communities, which was incorporated in 2020 and runs the Atlanta Solidarity Fund.
Lauren Regan, executive director of the Civil Liberties Defense Center, called the arrests an "extreme provocation" in a statement.
"Bailing out protestors who exercise their constitutionally protected rights is simply not a crime," Regan said. "In fact, it is a historically grounded tradition in the very same social and political movements that the city of Atlanta prides itself on. Someone had to bail out civil rights activists in the 60's — I think we can all agree that community support isn't a crime."
More than 40 people have been charged with domestic terrorism in connection with protests over the Atlanta Public Safety Training Center, a cause that has garnered international attention since authorities clearing the protesters' camp in South River Forest fatally shot an environmental activist in January. Officials say the officers fired in self-defense after the protester shot a trooper. The Georgia Bureau of Investigation is investigating.
Kautz himself predicted in a February statement that investigators are trying to build a criminal case against protesters using Georgia's Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations law.
That law allows prosecutors to bring charges against multiple people accused of committing separate crimes while working toward a common goal. RICO is a felony charge that carries stiff penalties: A prison term of five to 20 years; a fine of $25,000 or three times the amount of money gained from the criminal activity, whichever is greater; or both.
"This is targeting of organizers and movements by the police and the state," Kamau Franklin of Community Movement Builders said in a statement. "Bail funds have been a part of organizing the Civil Rights movement and labor movement. We will continue to fight back against cop city and the political arrest of our friends and comrades."
In a statement issued after the arrests, Gov. Brian Kemp said the state would "track down every member of a criminal organization, from violent foot soldiers to their uncaring leaders."
"These criminals facilitated and encouraged domestic terrorism with no regard for others, watching as communities faced the destructive consequences of their actions." the Republican said. "Here in Georgia, we do not allow that to happen."
Georgia Attorney General Chris Carr, also a Republican, pledged to "not rest until we have held accountable every person who has funded, organized, or participated in this violence and intimidation."
On May 24, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security issued a bulletin of terrorism-related threats to the country, including the following statement involving the proposed Atlanta police training facility: "Since spring of 2022, alleged DVEs (domestic violent extremists) in Georgia have cited anarchist violent extremism, animal rights/environmental violent extremism, and anti-law enforcement sentiment to justify criminal activity in opposition to a planned public safety training facility in Atlanta. Criminal acts have included an alleged shooting and assaults targeting law enforcement and property damage targeting the facility, construction companies, and financial institutions for their perceived involvement with the planned facility."
Activists from across the country have joined the protest movement, arguing that the 85-acre (34-hectare) center would train officers to become more militarized and quell dissent at, all while hundreds of trees are cut down, damaging the climate and flood mitigation in a poor, majority-Black neighborhood.
The Atlanta City Council approved building the training center in 2021, saying a state-of-the-art campus would replace substandard offerings and boost police morale, which is beset by hiring and retention struggles in the wake of violent nationwide protests against police brutality and racial injustice in the summer of 2020.
After the Wednesday arrests, councilmember Liliana Bakhtiari stated on Twitter: "I am deeply concerned that in polarized times, actions like these can inadvertently set new precedents that can jeopardize the rights that we value as Americans. Given the heightened state of tension throughout our community related to the Public Safety Training Center, this action deserves the utmost scrutiny and sensitivity as it moves through the legal process."
The city is tasking the private Atlanta Police Foundation with building the complex, promising to pay $67 million over time. The remainder of the $90 million complex would come from private funds. Foundation work is ongoing, with the complex projected to be completed in 2024.