This afternoon, DeKalb District Attorney (DA) Sherry Boston announced that after a formal review of the evidence, her office is withdrawing from the prosecution of 42 cases against individuals opposed to the Atlanta Public Safety Training Center, more commonly known as Cop City, a $90 million training center being built by the Atlanta Police Foundation (APF).
Prior to the DA’s withdrawal today, the cases were prosecuted under concurrent jurisdiction. Georgia law gives jurisdiction to both state and local prosecutors for certain offenses, like domestic terrorism. Boston informed the attorney general of her intention to withdraw from the 42 cases last night, adding that it will be up to Carr’s office to prosecute these cases.
For the last two years, opposition to the Cop City project by the Defend the Forest Movement brought on numerous protests, rallies, lengthy public comment sessions and a year-long occupation of the forest in which the APF is trying to build the training center.
In total, there are 102 cases across three Georgia counties that prosecutors are attempting to tie to the Defend the Atlanta Forest movement, including a total of 43 charges of domestic terrorism.
The attorney general’s office was already the primary prosecutor for the seven domestic terrorism cases in DeKalb County for those arrested during the multi-jurisdictional raid of the South River Forest on January 18 that resulted in the killing of forest defender and environmental activist Manuel “Tortuguita” Paez Terán.
There are seven additional cases of domestic terrorism in Fulton County.
“It is clear to both myself and the Attorney General that we have fundamentally different prosecution philosophies,” Boston stated, adding that she has a commitment to her local electoral base to “only proceed on cases that I believe I can make beyond a reasonable doubt.”
“District Attorney Boston’s decision to not prosecute those charged with crimes related to the stop cop city movement is a clear sign that there is no evidence to support those arrests. When a prosecutor publicly comes out and says she doesn’t want to pursue a criminal case—everyone should sit up and listen,” said former state and federal prosecutor Alex Joseph. “District Attorney Boston’s entire job is to send people to prison. If she says the evidence isn’t there, believe her.”
Boston noted that her differences with Carr arose despite her confidence that both prosecutorial teams had access to the same information about the cases.
“This confirms what we knew all along: that the domestic terrorism charges were a baseless overreaction meant to quell dissent against the Cop City project,” said Josh Lingsch, attorney for one of the defendants charged with domestic terrorism in December. “While we are grateful that Ms. Boston finally spoke up, it cannot undo the harm experienced by the defendants who were initially jailed on these unfounded charges. The onus is now on Chris Carr to do the right thing and drop the charges against these defendants.”
In a Twitter post released moments after the announcement, Attorney General Chris Carr said that his office will continue to pursue the domestic terrorism charges. The tweet accuses protestors of crimes for which none of the domestic terrorism defendants have been formally charged.
Boston added that, in addition to disagreements with AG Carr about the ability to prosecute the cases beyond a reasonable doubt, the DA office’s participation in prosecution against Cop City opponents took a toll on her personal life. She claimed that her address had been shared publicly and she had received direct threats for her participation in the prosecution.
“This has impacted my family, my husband, my children because we’ve had to have extra security. I’ve had to really be a lot more careful of a lot of my movements,” Boston stated.
Boston’s announcement came one day after Georgia Bureau of Investigations (GBI) Director Mike Register announced he is stepping down from his position with the GBI to take a position as Director of Public Safety in Cobb County, a suburb just north of Atlanta. The GBI is one of the agencies on the joint task force assigned with investigating and prosecuting the Defend the Atlanta Forest movement. GBI Special Agent Ryan Long signed all the domestic terrorism warrants taken out against alleged members of the movement.
Earlier this week, it was reported that AG Carr denied District Attorney Boston move to exclude an attorney who was acting as a legal observer during the March 5, 2023, arrests from forthcoming indictments against the movement. Boston said that decision was one of issues “that ultimately led me to make the decision that I have made here now.”
Boston is not the only one to express doubt over the prosecutorial approach taken by the attorney general’s office. Earlier this month, Magistrate Judge James Altman said there was “[not] a lot of meat on the bones,” in reference to money laundering and charity fraud charges leveled by the attorney general’s office against three bail fund organizers for their work in relation to the movement against Cop City.