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Stop the Swap lawsuit plaintiffs file emergency motion in response to destruction at Weelaunee People’s Park

Cut limbs and branches are haphazardly piled up at Weelaunee People's Park (Intrenchment Creek Park).
Cut limbs and branches are haphazardly piled up at Weelaunee People’s Park (Intrenchment Creek Park).

Workers claiming to be in the employ of Ryan Millsap again returned to Weelaunee People’s Park (Intrenchment Creek Park) on the morning of December 22nd, 2022. Photographs submitted to ACPC show large numbers of trees being felled, and the machines being guarded by a solitary City of Lithonia Police Department officer. Said officer refused to identify himself or provide his badge number to community members that had gathered to document the destruction. He identified himself as working privately for the property owner on a “part-time job”, a common practice in law enforcement.

City of Lithonia Police Department officer representing the “property owner”

The officer repeatedly insisted that two independent journalists the gathered community members leave the so-called private property. Per the terms of the land swap agreement, the park is to remain open and accessible until the completion of Michelle Obama Park. The officer threatened to arrest those gathered, and called for backup from DeKalb County Police Department officers, and pushed witnesses away from the scenes of destruction and into the parking lot. There, and upon being filmed, the Lithonia officer changed his tune and insisted he was only concerned for the safety of those gathered and asked that they stay away from the construction equipment.

A large swath of trees of trees has been seemingly clear-cut in the park

In response to the destruction, plaintiffs in the civil lawsuit to Stop the Swap have filed a request for an “Emergency Motion for Temporary Restraining Order and Preliminary Injunctive Relief” against Millsap, Blackhall and DeKalb County in DeKalb County Superior Court.

The emergency motion requests that:

“Plaintiffs bring this Motion requesting emergency relief to prevent further
destruction of public park land known as Intrenchment Creek Park and public
amenities associated with the same by Defendant Blackhall Real Estate Phase II, LLC
(“Blackhall”) and others; to prevent further harassment of citizens utilizing their public
park; to restore certainty and peace of mind to citizens of DeKalb County as it relates to
their ability to access and utilize public park land; to prevent further destruction of
property and evidence relevant to this case; and to maintain the status quo by
preventing further destruction or development of public park land.”

Margaret Spalding, executive director of the South River Watershed Alliance, issued the following statement to ACPC:

Millsap’s actions at ICP violate the real estate agreement between the County and Blackhall. Further, Millsap is violating DeKalb County code by disturbing land, removing the PATH and felling trees with heavy machinery without having even applied with the county for a Land Disturbance Permit. In fact, the property has not even been rezoned for development. 

The citizens lawsuit over the land swap is in a court of law. Defendants DeKalb County and Blackhall Studios should at the very least respect the legal system and protect the greenspace until the court rules.

Blackhall Studios and Ryan Millsap actions — with the help of…police and the apathy, if not complicity, of DeKalb County leadership — are escalating an already tense situation. What’s happening on both sides of the creek — at the [old Atlanta] Prison Farm by City of Atlanta and the [Atlanta Police Foundation], and at [Intrenchment Creek Park] by DeKalb and Millsap — are textbook examples of the destruction of the environment in south Atlanta and south DeKalb communities of color.

The recent policing of residents who are simply visiting the park or walking the PATH further demonstrates the prioritization of private entities over marginalized communities and [the] natural environment. DeKalb has and continues to bend over backward for one person — a real estate magnate whose primary residence isn’t even in Atlanta. Millsap played DeKalb county leadership with a bait and switch — selling his movie studio just after the land swap and keeping the 40 acres of ICP for himself. Meanwhile millions of dollars of funding needed to create the new “Michelle Obama Park” that was promised to the community is nowhere to be heard of.

No one in the DeKalb County community was given notice or warned by the County, its Commissioners, parks or police departments, that the trail head, park land and trees, and the South River Trail (PATH) at ICP would be destroyed with heavy machinery in a matter if 24 hours during the busiest holiday week of the year. Millsap is not only destroying what our citizens lawsuit contests is legally public land, his actions are putting people in danger. 

photos submitted anonymously to Atlanta Community Press Collective, and received with much gratitude.

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