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Protester killed, state trooper wounded during exchange of gunfire at Atlanta training center

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Georgia State Patrol troopers on Key Road in DeKalb County on Wednesday, Jan. 18, 2023, after an exchange of gunfire between law enforcement and a protester. (John Spink/The Atlanta Journal-Constitution/TNS)


Tyler Estep

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

ATLANTA — Law enforcement officers helping conduct a “clearing operation” at the site of Atlanta’s planned public safety training center exchanged gunfire with a protester Wednesday morning, leaving the protester dead and a state trooper wounded, according to the Georgia Bureau of Investigation.

The identity of the protester, a male accused of initiating fire with troopers “without warning,” was not released pending notification of kin.

The wounded trooper, who was shot in the abdomen area, also was not identified. He underwent surgery and was in stable condition in the intensive care unit at a local hospital, Georgia State Patrol Col. Chris Wright said during a Wednesday afternoon news conference.

Few other details about the 9 a.m. incident near Constitution Road, just south of the proposed training center site in southwestern DeKalb County, have been released.

Authorities described the situation as ongoing. Law enforcement remained out en masse at nearby Gresham Park and along Key Road well into the afternoon.

Four other protesters had been detained throughout the day, GBI Director Mike Register said. It was still to be determined if charges would be filed. Register declined to comment on if the individuals were present during the shooting or provide further specifics about the exchange of gunfire.

For more than a year now, the site and surrounding areas in southwestern DeKalb County have been an epicenter for controversy and clashes between activists and law enforcement. Six people were arrested last month and charged with domestic terrorism in relation to activities trying to stop progress on the training center.

More traditional forms of protest have taken place, including a demonstration outside the DeKalb County district attorney’s office on Martin Luther King Jr. Day. But extreme activists have also thrown Molotov cocktails, rocks and other objects at police and contractors on the site. They’ve destroyed machinery. And anonymous bloggers have claimed responsibility for vandalism across the state and the country, at homes and businesses they deem to be sympathetic to or directly involved in construction of the $90 million facility.

Register said authorities were “dealing not with protesters but with criminals.”

The “forest defenders” see the training center — which they’ve derisively dubbed “cop city” — as Atlanta doubling down on the militarization of police and controversial tactics even in the wake of 2020′s social justice protests. They also say the destruction of the forest will exacerbate climate change and lead to more pollution in an area that’s already been historically neglected.

Micah Herskind, a local community organizer, wrote on Twitter Wednesday that officials “rammed through a proposal despite enormous public opposition; they have repeatedly, violently raided the forest; they have destroyed land & attacked people.”

“What is true, no matter what, is that the city of Atlanta and APD are the escalatory force,” he wrote.

The Atlanta Community Press Collective, an activist-aligned online publication, issued a news release with similar sentiments, accusing “the government” of “escalating this situation pointlessly.” A vigil for the protester was scheduled for Wednesday night in Atlanta’s Little Five Points neighborhood.

“No one can bring our friend back to us,” the news release said. “An innocent life has been taken and the machines continue.”

As recently as Tuesday night, Assistant Atlanta Police Chief Carven Tyus said things had “been quiet” at the training center site since the December arrests, which marked a dramatic escalation in law enforcement’s approach to the activists.

Police have conducted “almost daily walkthroughs and drone surveillance” at the site, Tyus said. Atlanta Mayor Andre Dickens vowed recently that full-time security would be provided as work begins to build the facility.

The property — the forested former site of a prison farm — is owned by the city of Atlanta but rests in DeKalb County. The county has yet to approve the necessary land disturbance permits for construction to begin in earnest.

Dickens tweeted Wednesday that his prayers were with the wounded trooper.

Members of the Atlanta police SWAT team gather at Gresham Park on Wednesday, Jan. 18, 2023, after a Georgia State Patrol trooper was shot near the site of Atlanta’s proposed public safety training center. (John Spink/The Atlanta Journal-Constitution/TNS)

“My team and APD are providing full support to our state and county partners as they secure the site in DeKalb County and investigate the incident,” he wrote.

DeKalb CEO Michael Thurmond also offered prayers and said the county would “continue to cooperate with and provide support to the multijurisdictional law enforcement task force charged with maintaining peace and security.”

In his own tweet, Gov. Brian Kemp — who has not been shy about labeling the activists as terrorists — said his resolve “remains steadfast and strong to see criminals brought to justice.”

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A note of disclosure

The James M. Cox Foundation, the charitable arm of Cox Enterprises which owns The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, has contributed to the training center fundraising campaign. It is among several Atlanta-based foundations that have contributed.

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©2023 The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Visit at ajc.com. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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