ATLANTA - Atlanta police say they've made an arrest in their investigation into arson activities connected to the city's construction of the controversial Atlanta Public Safety Training Center, which is referred to as "Cop City" by protesters and activists.
At a press conference Thursday morning, Atlanta Mayor Andre Dickens said the man was linked to multiple arson attacks.
Police say at 6 a.m., a task force involving multiple law enforcement agencies implemented search warrants and entered three homes - two in Atlanta and one in unincorporated DeKalb County - that they say were connected to recent acts of vandalism and arson. The suspect, identified as 30-year-old John Robert Mazurek, was taken into custody at one of the homes and charged with first-degree arson.
Officials say the Atlanta resident is believed to be responsible for a fire caused by homemade "incendiary devices" early July 1, 2023, at Atlanta police’s current training center on Atlanta's south side that destroyed eight motorcycles.
"There was a police officer inside the precinct at the time this occurred. Had these vehicles been set on fire, the entire precinct would have been ignited," said Atlanta Police Chief Darin Chief Schierbaum.
John Robert Mazurek (Atlanta Police Department)
Schierbaum said that more arrests "will come, and they will come soon."
Officials have previously spoken out about several intentionally set fires targeting construction equipment, describing the protesters' actions as ruthless and dangerous.
Law enforcement officials say their destruction has cost companies and police agencies millions of dollars in damaged equipment in at least four states across the country.
(Atlanta Police Department)
Stop Cop City organizers gathered in downtown Atlanta early Thursday evening.
The organizers say police are trying to intimidate and criminalize those against the project.
"What we want is for activists, organizers, protesters and movement comrades to stop being harassed for no apparent reason other than saying 'Stop Cop City,'" Keana Jones, activist pastor in residence at Park Avenue Baptist Church, said.
"You think we give a damn about some equipment?! Not at all... I'm not going to condemn somebody for doing righteously what they need to do when our city has silenced every quote-unquote, proper democratic process!" Mary Hooks said.
‘Stop Cop City’ arson investigations
Police say the latest act of arson took place at a construction site on the corner of Boulevard SE and Custer Avenue. The location is a few blocks away from the planned training center site.
Speaking hours after the fire, Atlanta Fire Chief Roderick Smith and Schierbaum say they have evidence to believe that the fire was an act of arson tied to protests against the training center, which activists have given the nickname "Cop City."
"We are close to private homes where families live, and we have arsons occurring. It really needs to stop." Smith said, calling the act "absolutely horrendous."
Schierbaum said the fire broke out less than two weeks after another piece of equipment belonging to a construction company associated with the training center was set on fire. Although no one has been arrested, Schierbaum said activists took responsibility for the Jan. 14 arson on a website.
Last year, a South Carolina man was arrested for arson that officials have connected with the protests.
According to ABC News 4, the 23-year-old allegedly set fire to two trucks on Dec. 30 at Thomas Concrete in Summerville and spray-painted several messages related to the Public Safety Training Center on trucks at the property.
A previous fire was reported on the morning of Nov. 16 and damaged construction equipment in Clayton County belonging to Brent Scarborough and Company, Inc. Two days before, a similar fire destroyed several vehicles belonging to a construction company in Lawrenceville.
A spokesperson for Ernst Concrete said the extent of the company's involvement with the APSTC was supplying two loads of concrete for the roadway surrounding the project.
"Ernst Concrete is not the concrete foundation company for the Atlanta Public Safety Training Center," the company said.
According to an online post titled "Make Contractors Afraid Again," the anonymous group set the fire to make the cost of the contract greater than the profit. They also encouraged "experimentation with incendiary placement."
In 2023, the APD, the Georgia State Fire Marshals and other law enforcement agencies announced a reward of up to $200,000 in hopes of catching the group behind the fires.
Debate around the Atlanta Public Safety Training Center
Protests against the training center have been ongoing for more than two years. Over the weekend, activists held meetings, concerts, dinners, and direct action to rally support to block the project.
Atlanta Mayor Andre Dickens and other supporters say the 85-acre, $90 million facility would replace inadequate training facilities and would help address difficulties in hiring and retaining police officers. Opponents have expressed concern that it could lead to greater police militarization and that its construction in the South River Forest will worsen environmental damage in a poor, majority-Black area.
Protests against the project, which have at times resulted in violence and vandalism, escalated after the fatal shooting in January of 26-year-old protester Manuel Esteban Paez Terán, known as Tortuguita. A prosecutor last month said he would not pursue charges against the state troopers who shot Paez Terán, saying he found that their use of deadly force was "objectively reasonable."
In August, Georgia Attorney General Chris Carr indicted 61 protesters using the state's anti-racketeering law, characterizing them as "militant anarchists."
The city says the issues caused by protestors have raised the cost of the training center by about $20 million.
Meantime, construction is nearly 70% complete and should be done in December.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.