Atlanta Riots Timeline: How 'Stop Cop City' movement led to violent night in Downtown

Downtown Atlanta on Jan. 21 flooded with people demanding justice for an activist killed near the site of a planned Atlanta Police Department training facility. 

Law enforcement said the protestor, who law enforcement identified as 26-year-old Manuel Esteban Paez Teran, opened fire on a Georgia State Patrol trooper before other officers returned fire. 

The violence Downtown was part of ongoing tensions that have happened for more than a year in Atlanta and in DeKalb County, where law enforcement said environmental activists camping out in the forest have fought against the training facility's construction by committing crimes. Protestors say the facility will destroy the Weelaunee Forest and expand law enforcement in the area.

Here's how the battle between police and protestors progressed over several months:

June 2021: Proposal to build new training facility to attract officers

Atlanta City Council proposed building a state-of-the-art training facility to attract more officers. 

Leaders pinpointed about 300 acres in DeKalb County, where there was already a police firing range. 

July 2021: Opposition to police training facility

Opponents of the training center built platforms in surrounding trees and camped out at the site.

Protestors infamously referred to the future facility as "cop city."

Council member Joyce Sheperd, who championed the proposal, planned for public hearings for feedback.

"We will continue to work with the (Atlanta Police Foundation) and the administration to make sure everyone has their voice heard on this matter before the Council votes on the legislation," Sheperd said in a statement

September 2021: Police training facility approved

The Atlanta City Council voted in September 2021 to approve the proposal to lease the forested land in unincorporated DeKalb County to the Atlanta Police Foundation to build the facility for first responders.

The measure was approved after being postponed in August 2021. Activists with the "Stop Cop City" movement, said that the training facility would not help the city’s crime problem and further hurt relations between police and communities of color.

"We don’t believe that better-trained police officers is what the solution is to any of this," said Shafeka Hashash, chair of the Atlanta chapter of the Democratic Socialists of America. "We in fact believe that if that funding does exist, it should go into community support and actually meeting the needs of community."

May 2022: Incendiary device seen on security video

In May 2022, Atlanta police said officers arrested multiple people who allegedly threw rocks and an apparent "Molotov cocktail" at law enforcement during demonstrations. 

Protestors denied attacking officers, saying police were intimidating them and suppressing their rights to free speech.

Atlanta Police Department Assistant Chief Darin Schierbaum said no one was injured when someone threw a "glass container with an accelerant inside and a crude ignition device."

May 2022: Vandalism at the office of contractor Brasfield & Gorrie

Days later, someone broke windows and splashed paint on a sign at Brasfield & Gorrie's office in Birmingham, Alabama.

On a window that said: "Drop Cop City or Else." 

Damage allegedly cost around $80,000. Atlanta police issued a $25,000 reward for information leading to arrests.

The vandals appeared to leave the scene in a white Toyota Prius on 31st Street.

July-September 2022: Neighborhoods blame activists for vandalism

People living in nearby neighborhoods blamed protestors for some vandalism in the area. 

Some people living in the Boulder Walk community said security cameras were knocked over by "Stop Cop City" activists. The neighborhood is near the planned training center.

A couple of weeks later, in August, vandals destroyed a truck of a landowner of a nearby property

In September, firefighters responded to flames on Key Road near Bouldercrest Road. The DeKalb Fire Department confirmed the flames torched some excavating and construction equipment. 

December 2022: Domestic terrorism charges for multiple activists

The Georgia Bureau of Investigation said five people face domestic terrorism charges, accused of throwing rocks and bottles at police cars and EMTs along Bouldercrest Road.

Protestors said SWAT teams swarmed the woods earlier in the day, shutting down roads for hours. Demonstrators claim police tore down encampments. 

The GBI said the sweep was part of a joint task force "formed to combat ongoing criminal activity" in the area.

"Task force members used various tactics to arrest individuals who were occupying makeshift tree houses," a statement from the GBI said.

December 2022: Protestors respond to domestic terrorism charges

A group of protestors opposing plans to construct an Atlanta Police Department training facility in southeast Atlanta accused police of using plastic bullets and pepper spray while arresting multiple protestors.

Marlon Kautz with the Atlanta Solidarity Fund, which provides legal support for people arrested during protests, said protestors were unarmed and not violent.

"We've seen over the past year or so, during the course of the protest movement against cop city, that the police have been engaging in a deliberate campaign to demonize the protest movement," Kautz said.

Stop Cop City supporters claimed no one was threatening or endangering anyone while they set in "tree sits" conducting a non-violent protest.

"I think slapping them with domestic terrorism is also an attempt to warn other people who are organizing against this, other activists, to be careful and be scared in a way to try and silence our movement," Jasmine Burnett said.

Jan. 18, 2023: Activist killed, trooper shot near planned training facility

A Georgia State Patrol trooper was shot and a protestor, who law enforcement identified as 26-year-old Manuel Esteban Paez, was killed. Stop Cop City activists said the person killed was known by as "Tortuguita." 

Investigators say a forensic ballistic analysis confirmed the remains of the bullet pulled from the trooper’s body during surgery was fired from a Smith & Wesson M&P Shield 9mm recovered at the scene. Investigators said the gun was used by the slain protester.

Officials said Georgia State Patrol troopers do not have body-worn cameras recording encounters, only dash cameras.

Seven people were arrested and charged with domestic terrorism. 

Downtown Atlanta protests turn violent

A protest following a vigil for the activist's death took a violent turn in Downtown Atlanta.

Following a Friday night memorial service, Atlanta Police Chief Darin Schierbaum said a crowd gathered Saturday for a peaceful protest at Underground Atlanta. For about an hour, people dressed in black marched along Peachtree Street in downtown Atlanta demanding justice.

Schierbaum said on Ellis Street and Peachtree Street, a group started breaking windows and attacking police cruisers.

A total of six people were arrested.