ATLANTA - A Georgia State Patrol trooper was shot and a protestor was killed during a confrontation near the site of the controversial "Cop City" Atlanta Police Department training facility on Wednesday, the Georgia Department of Public Safety confirmed.
The shooting happened around 9 a.m. Wednesday during a "clearing operation" at the site, Georgia Department of Public Safety Colonel Chris Wright said at a press conference at Grady Memorial Hospital. Investigators say law enforcement officers were attempted to get a man out of a tent located on the property.
He did not respond to commands given to him to exit and at some point, Wright said that a protestor fired a shot, hitting the trooper. Officers returned fire, killing the suspect.
Georgia Bureau of Investigation Director Michael Register said a protestor opened fire first.
"An individual, without warning, shot a Georgia State Patrol trooper," Register said. "Other law enforcement personnel returned fire in self-defense and evacuated the trooper to a safe area. The individual who fired upon law enforcement and shot the trooper was killed in the exchange of gunfire."
Georgia State Patrol investigate near the site of an alleged shooting on Jan. 18, 2023. (FOX 5 Atlanta)
Other law enforcement officers were able to get the trooper out of the wooded area. Wright said the injured trooper was out of surgery as of Wednesday afternoon and in stable condition in ICU. He was shot in the "pelvic-area" and he was wearing a bullet-proof vest.
Investigators say they found a handgun and shell casing at the scene.
Officials have not released the identity of the trooper or the person killed in the incident.
The Georgia Bureau of Investigation will be investigating the deadly use of force and will turn over its findings to the Georgia Attorney General’s Office and DeKalb County District Attorney’s Office, who are jointly prosecuting this case.
Four arrested in ‘Cop City’ after trooper injured, protester killed in exchange of gunfire
Multiple law enforcement agencies have responded in DeKalb County where the investigation is happening.
Law enforcement outside Grady Hospital in Atlanta. (FOX 5 Atlanta)
Register said four people were detained on Wednesday. Their names have not been released.
He called the law enforcement response to protests "complex" and said some people involved in the alleged criminal activity are organized, while others are acting as individuals.
"They're endangering the community and the citizens around this area," Register said.
Charges are pending for those taken into custody and will be updated when they are finalized, investigators said.
Wednesday's task force was made up of the GBI, Atlanta Police Department, Georgia Attorney General’s Office, DeKalb County District Attorney’s Office, Georgia State Patrol, FBI, DeKalb County Police Department, Department of Natural Resources, and the Georgia Emergency Management Agency.
It was the same task force that made a similar sweep in December, making five arrests. All were charged with domestic terrorism. DeKalb County District Attorney Sherry Boston said at the time that people attacked firefighters and police officers with rocks and weapons as the officers removed barricades blocking some entrances to the site.
Cop City: Debate over protesting versus ‘illegally occupying’
The GBI and other law enforcement agencies "embrace a citizen’s right to protest, but law enforcement can’t stand by while serious criminal acts are being committed that jeopardize the safety of the citizens we’re sworn to protect," Register said.
People are "illegally occupying" the area and are committing criminal acts that endanger the community, including arson, beating people up, using explosives and setting booby traps that have the potential to seriously hurt someone, he said.
In an email to FOX 5 Atlanta, the organization Stop Cop City ATL said, "it is not clear" if the Georgia State Patrol trooper was injured by "police fire, a protestor, or a police induced action."
"Police have repeatedly raided the protest encampments in Weelaunee Forest, harassed and detained neighbors walking through the park, and attacked protestors with tear gas and rubber bullets," the statement said, in part. "During past raids, police have consistently escalated violent tactics on protestors (sic) who were sitting in trees or standing in a public park. On multiple occasions, they have cut tree limbs and rope out from under tree sitters in a fashion likely to cause serious injury or death. Today’s raid began with numerous armed police shutting down a public road and pointing guns into the park."
Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp responded to news of the state trooper's injury. He's taken a hard stance against Cop City protestors.
"As our thoughts remain with him and his family, our resolve also remains steadfast and strong to see criminals brought to justice," Kemp said.
"Domestic terrorism will NOT be tolerated in our state, and we will not hesitate, we will not rest, we will not waver in ending their activities and prosecuting them to the fullest extent of the law," Kemp continued in the statement posted on Twitter.
DeKalb County CEO Michael Thurmond said officials are supporting law enforcement.
"DeKalb County Government offers its thoughts and prayers for a speedy recovery for the Georgia State Patrol officer shot today in DeKalb County," Thurmond said in a statement. "DeKalb County will continue to cooperate with and provide support to the multi-jurisdictional law enforcement task force charged with maintaining peace and security."
Meantime, homeowners around the controversial property said they knew something like this would happen.
"We've been saying this for a while, it's going to take something drastic for them to actually do something to clear out the woods. I hate it to happen. I hate the officer was injured," homeowner Marc Bolden told FOX 5's Aungelique Proctor.
Cop City protesters hold candlelight vigil after deadly shooting
More than 150 people gathered to mourn the man’s death during a candlelight vigil Wednesday evening in Atlanta’s Little Five Points neighborhood, an area known as a hub for counterculture movements.
Activists said they did not have much information about the morning’s incident and did not know the identity of the person who was killed. But they called for an investigation into the shooting, urging the public and the media to reject the police "narrative" that officers were shooting in self-defense.
The group then took to the streets, blocking a busy intersection and throwing scooters in front of cars as others held a large banner reading, "Trees give life. Police take it."
"Stop Cop City!" the group yelled, followed by, "If you build it, we will burn it!"
What is Cop City?
The wooded area of southeast Atlanta has been the site of several protests since 2021 when the city voted in favor of building the facility near the site of the former Atlanta prison farm after weeks of protests. The training center would include a shooting range, classrooms, a mock village, an emergency vehicle driving course, stables for police horses, and a "burn building" for firefighters to practice putting out fires.
Groups that oppose the law enforcement and first responder training facility call it an expansion of the police state that threatens the Atlanta forest.
The 85-acre property is owned by the city of Atlanta but is located just outside the city limits in unincorporated DeKalb County, and includes a former state prison farm.
Opponents of the training center have been protesting for months by building platforms in surrounding trees and camping out at the site. They say that the $90 million project, which would be built by the Atlanta Police Foundation, involves cutting down so many trees that it would be environmentally damaging. They also oppose investing so much money in what they call "Cop City," which they say will be used to practice "urban warfare."
Multiple people have been arrested at the site for charges that include domestic terrorism. The latest arrests happened in December, when police arrested five people while attempting to remove the barricades blocking access to the site.
In that instance, officials say firefighters and police officers were attacked with rocks and incendiary weapons.
Earlier this year, Gov. Brian Kemp called the group part of a group of "militant activists who have committed similar acts of domestic terrorism across the country," saying that he would bring the "full force down on those trying to bring about a radical agenda through violent means."
Groups providing legal support to the protestors say that they were unarmed and not violent, arguing that the police have been engaging in a campaign to attack the movement.
The Associated Press contributed to this report