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APF Believes Forest Defender Indictments are Coming, Construction Plans in Disarray and On Hold

Construction at the proposed Training Center Site

True to concerns brought by The Atlanta Solidarity Fund late last month, emails obtained through open records requests show that the Atlanta Police Foundation (APF) and its contractors are awaiting “indictments to the leaders” of the Stop Cop City and Defend the Atlanta Forest Movement. 

In an email to the members of APF’s Board of Trustees, Emeritus Board, and Young Executive Board, APF Director of Public Affairs, Rob Baskin calls the Defend the Atlanta Forest and Stop Cop City movement a “conspiracy of protestors against the [Public Safety Training Center],” investigated by “a consortium of federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies.” Baskin explains somewhat erroneously to the various board members, that “some 20 individuals have been arrested — some for domestic terrorism and conspiracy, others for merely trespassing.” By Feb. 3, the date of the email, prosecutors in DeKalb and Fulton county combined charged a total of 18 individuals with domestic terrorism, sometimes on the flimsy grounds of criminal trespass or “sleeping in a hammock with another defendant.”

Baskin ends the email with a quasi-promise to the Boards, saying, “that the recent arrests, our receipt of the LDP, the mayor’s announcement [that the project was moving forward], and the continuing investigation by law enforcement will dampen [activists] efforts.”

These things had the opposite of their intended effect. Activists called for a Week of Action March 4-11 that saw hundreds of supporters show up to the both the Weelaunee Forest and rallies around Atlanta.

A little over a month after Baskin’s reassurance to the Boards, a group of about 200 protestors marched onto the proposed training center site and destroyed several pieces of equipment and infrastructure. Police responded by arresting and charging 23 individuals at a music festival about 1.5km away with domestic terrorism, including two legal observers. The evidentiary claims for these 23 domestic terrorism charges were even flimsier than previous charges, citing mud on the clothing of arrestees as a reason for several arrests. 

Feb. 8 timeline predicting indictments in 2-3 weeks, subcontractor bidding after that, and B&G prepared to start building in April

Feb. 8, just days after Baskin emailed the boards, representatives from APF and DaVinci Development Collaborative, LLC, the project management firm currently in charge of construction planning, held a bi-weekly zoom meeting for the training center project. The discussion points listed in the meeting minutes shows a similar timeline to the one activists predicted, with indictments “in the next 2-3 weeks.”

The timeline notes also that Brasfield & Gorrie, general contractor for the project, plans to mobilize for construction “around April,” and that subcontractor bidding needs to begin two months prior to that mobilization, “but won’t until indictments have happened.” 

The DTF Movement often draws comparisons with the early 2000s repression of environmentalists known as The Green Scare. Described by grassroots advocate organization, Defending Rights & Dissent, the Green Scare was, “a successful campaign by legislators, law enforcement, and corporate interests…to conflate animal rights and environmental activism with terrorism and use fears of so-called ‘eco-terrorism’ to chill, repress, and criminalize activism.” 

An email from Nicholas Golden, AFRD Homeland Security Officer to AFRD Chiefs

Legislators and Law Enforcement began using the term terrorism to describe Forest Defenders as late as April of 2022, ominously forewarning the parallels with the Green Scare. Now, with sub-contractor bids on hold until activists are indicted, corporate interests will likely play a more overt role pressuring prosecutors to disrupt the Movement. 

The indictments aren’t the only issues brought to light within the meeting minutes. 

The City and APF are putting together a financing package for $72.8m instead of $90m

The project, originally estimated to cost $90m is now priced at $72.8m. With the city indicating it will pay $32m for the project instead of the initial $30m estimate, the cost discrepancy likely comes from APF failing to raise the $60m it promised due to the pressure campaigns on APF Funders run by supporters of the Movement. Although APF started planning this facility back in 2017, DaVinci also notes $2.75m in costs not previously considered by the Foundation for things like: APD equipment, the lengthy delay in receiving their land disturbance permit (LDP), offsite security, and a pedestrian walkway required by DeKalb County. 

Additionally, DaVinci warns of a possible cost overrun for the firing range, which moved from its original space near a neighborhood to a space adjacent to a youth detention center. As of Feb. 8, there was still no completed acoustical study and there remains a chance that the firing range as planned will not fall within the acceptable decibel levels as set by DeKalb ordinances.  

Fire training center looked at for possible cost reductions

Gone from the plan, at least temporarily, are the stables and kennels, with the promise that additional funding could see the stables at least rolled into the initial construction phase; the emergency vehicle operations course (EVOC), however, is out of the project plans without any mention of return. The fire training center faces risk as well, with the minutes noting, “would like to reduce the $/sf for this component.” 

During the press conference announcing DeKalb was issuing the LDP, Mayor Andre Dickens spent much time touting how the fire department needed this new training center. Dickens said the EVOC was necessary to train fire recruits how to drive trucks and engines, since the department is no longer allowed to train on their overweight vehicles in commercial parking lots. With the EVOC ostensibly out of the current project plans, and the fire training center looking at cost reductions, it’s evident that the priority here is a police training center, not a fire training center. 

As of Feb. 8, APF still didn’t understand the extent of the promise to replace every hardwood tree with 100 new plantings, and a “specimen tree” for every “invasive species tree.”  Under a line that says, “need to understand this project’s commitment,” the minutes account for three hardwood trees on the site and an additional three trees in the way of the pedestrian walkway. Two lines later, it says, “need to define invasive species trees.” After continually touting the tree replacement program when challenged by environmentalists, not having even defined one of the key terms this late into the project’s lifespan is cause for concern. 

Perhaps inspired by a shared enemy, APF is looking into a funding agreement with nearby Shadowbox Studios (formerly known as Blackhall Studios). The minutes discuss a plan to allow Shadowbox to use the training center facilities for filming in exchange for the studio providing funding for some components of the project. 

Dave Wilkinson’s continued disdain for rules and regulations also works its way into the meeting minutes. The first action item listed says, “need to compile list of items that this project has incurred from DeKalb County’s requirements and send to Dave to address with the County and City,” which reads like a frustrated Wilkinson wants to play by a separate rulebook – one where incomplete environmental studies are acceptable, public listening sessions don’t allow the public to speak, and LDP appeals don’t mean work must stop.

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story stated the date of Rob Baskin email to the APF board as Feb 8, the correct date is Feb 3.

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