ATLANTA - A member of the Atlanta City Council is speaking out about the arrests of three activists involved in supporting protests against the planned Atlanta Public Safety Training Center that critics have derisively nicknamed "Cop City."
Adele MacLean, 42, Marlon Scott Kautz, 39, and Savannah Patterson, 30, were arrested Wednesday on charges of charities fraud and money laundering. The three lead the Atlanta Solidarity Fund, which has provided bail money and helped find attorneys for arrested protesters.
Friday, Magistrate Court Judge James Altman granted each of the activists $15,000 bond, expressing concerns about their free speech rights and saying he did not find the prosecution’s case, at least for now, "real impressive."
Marlon Scott Kautz, 39 (DeKalb County Sheriff's Office)
In a statement, Liliana Bakhtiari, who represents District 5, called the three arrested organizers "some of the best of our Atlanta mutual aid network" and said that they had provided bail funds for "elected leaders and friends of mine."
Deputy Attorney General John Fowler argued against bond in a Zoom call during the hearing Friday, saying the MacLean, Kautz, and Patterson pose a danger to the community.
"On its face, it appears to be laudable, it appears to be lawful," he said of their nonprofit, noting that they run a bail fund and a food fund. But he said investigators have found that the activists "harbor extremist anti-government and anti-establishment views and not all of the money goes to what they say that it goes to."
Fowler said some of the money has been used to fund violent acts against people and property around the city of Atlanta. He cited an attack on Georgia’s Department of Public Safety headquarters in July 2020, vandalism at Ebenezer Baptist Church in January 2022, and protests related to the planned training center that turned violent.
In her response to the hearing, Bakhtiari described arguments such as the one's Fowler used as "weaponizing the law in pursuit of a political agenda."
"Actions like these should be disconcerting to us all, and they cannot stand," she wrote.
The council member also questioned the timing of the arrests, which came less than a week before the City Council is expected to vote on allocating $31 million to support the construction of the training center.
"The execution of this raid, from its timing - just days before the Atlanta City Council is scheduled for a final vote on the controversial Public Safety Training Center - to the excessive means in which it was conducted, appears to be nothing more than an intimidation tactic by the state," Bakhtiari wrote. "And in the words of Judge Altman yesterday, ‘I don’t find it real impressive.’"
The training center, approved by the Atlanta City Council in September 2021, has drawn opposition from the start. City officials say the new 85-acre campus would replace inadequate current training facilities and would help address difficulties in hiring and retaining police officers that worsened after nationwide protests against police brutality and racial injustice three years ago.
Local opponents, who have been joined by activists from around the country, say they fear it will lead to greater militarization of the police and that its construction will exacerbate environmental damage. Protesters had been camping at the site since at least last year, and police said they had caused damage and attacked law enforcement officers and others.
Several dozen people accused of involvement in the protests have been arrested since May 2022, including more than 40 who have been charged with domestic terrorism, a felony charge that carries a penalty of five to 35 years in prison.
Billy Heath/FOX 5 Atlanta
The arrest warrants for MacLean, Kautz and Patterson say that they committed charity fraud by misleading contributors by using funds collected through the Network for Strong Communities, which runs the Atlanta Solidarity Fund, to fund the actions of Defend the Atlanta Forest.
The money laundering charges stem from a transfer of funds out of and then back into the Network for Strong Communities account and reimbursements from the organization to the personal accounts of the organization’s officers, the warrants say.
MacLean, Kautz and Patterson are respectively the CEO, chief financial officer and secretary of the Network for Strong Communities. The cited reimbursements were for expenses including "gasoline, forest clean-up, totes, COVID rapid tests, media, yard signs." Other expenses include moving a jail support hotline to a new phone plan and adding two phone lines, and expenditures for Forest Justice Defense Fund townhall meeting and building materials, according to the warrants.
You can ready Bakhtiari's full statement below:
"The three Atlanta Solidarity Fund organizers arrested earlier this week were granted bond yesterday. These three organizers are some of the best of our Atlanta mutual aid network. I have seen them clothe and feed the homeless, protect and give a voice to our disabled community, and yes, provide bail funds for countless individuals since the 2020 protests, including elected leaders and friends of mine. They have taught me about what it means to be in community. I have personally witnessed the impact they have had on people’s lives, and I’ve seen their unwavering commitment to their values in pursuit of a more fair and just community.
"In yesterday’s hearing, we heard little about what these three human beings did to break the law. Instead, we heard rhetoric framing the state’s view of a movement, using these people and their life’s work as an example of something to be feared. Weaponizing the law in pursuit of a political agenda is an affront to our fundamental freedoms as Americans. Actions like these should be disconcerting to us all, and they cannot stand.
"The execution of this raid, from its timing - just days before the Atlanta City Council is scheduled for a final vote on the controversial Public Safety Training Center - to the excessive means in which it was conducted, appears to be nothing more than an intimidation tactic by the state. And in the words of Judge Altman yesterday, ‘I don’t find it real impressive.’
"The beauty of mutual aid is that it is decentralized. The gaps are constantly being filled through communal effort. Yes, three people were arrested and their work constrained this week. But the movement is much broader than three people. The cries will grow louder as a result of this week’s actions. It is in the best interest of all of us to listen."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.