Nearly three dozen people have been detained after flaming bottles and rocks were thrown at officers during a violent protest at a new police training center that’s been the site of prior demonstrations and the death of a protester, Atlanta police said.

Atlanta Police Chief Darin Schierbaum said at a midnight news conference that several pieces of construction equipment were set on fire Sunday at the site for the Atlanta Public Safety Training Center in DeKalb County.

Surveillance video released by police show a piece of heavy equipment in flames at the facility under construction that critics have dubbed “Cop City.” It was among multiple pieces of construction equipment destroyed, police said. 

In a statement, police called the incident “a coordinated attack” on equipment and officers by individuals who they allege “used the cover of a peaceful protest” to access the premises before changing “into black clothing and entering the construction area.”

Police Training Site-Protest
This image provided by the Atlanta Police Department shows construction equipment set on fire Saturday, March 4, 2023 by a group protesting the planned public safety training center, according to police. 

/ AP

Protesters dressed in all black threw large rocks, bricks, Molotov cocktails, and fireworks at police officers Sunday at the construction site, police said.

Other police agencies stepped in to assist city officers, and no officers were injured, Schierbaum said. Officers used restraint and nonlethal enforcement methods to disperse the crowd and detain those involved, he said.

“The agitators destroyed multiple pieces of construction equipment by fire and vandalism,” the Atlanta Police Department said in a news release issued on Sunday night. At the time, 35 people had been detained in connection with the protest, according to the police department.

“The illegal actions of the agitators could have resulted in bodily harm. … With protests planned for the coming days, the Atlanta Police Department, in collaboration with law enforcement partners, have a multi-layered strategy that includes reaction and arrest,” police said in the release.

At the press conference, Schierbaum described the protest as “a very violent attack.” 

“This wasn’t about a public safety training center,” he said. “This was about anarchy … and we are addressing that quickly.”

Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp said the people involved “chose destruction and vandalism over legitimate protest, yet again demonstrating the radical intent behind their actions.”

“As I’ve said before, domestic terrorism will NOT be tolerated in this state,” Kemp said in a statement Monday.

“We will not rest until those who use violence and intimidation for an extremist end are brought to full justice,” he said.

The names of those in custody and the criminal charges against them were not immediately available early Monday, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported. But Schierbaum said many were not from the Atlanta area.

In January, a 26-year-old environmental activist was shot to death by law officers in the forest where the training center is being built.

More protests are planned in coming days, police said.

“The Atlanta Police Department asks for this week’s protests to remain peaceful,” police said in a statement.

Mounting clashes between environmental activists and law enforcement officers in Atlanta gained national attention earlier this year. In January, a confrontation between police and protesters at the “Cop City” construction site — which unfolded as officers attempted to clear people from the area — ended with gunfire. One protester was killed and a state trooper was wounded, but the details of what happened remained unclear.

Manuel Esteban Paez Teran, a “forest defender” who went by the name Tortuguita, died in the shooting. Teran’s death sparked outrage and debate across the country, and fueled tension between environmental advocates and law enforcement in the Atlanta area. The Georgia Bureau of Investigation has said the shooting was not recorded by police body cameras. 

The $90 million, 85-acre center, which includes a shooting range, mock city and burn building, among other facilities, will “reimagine law enforcement training and Police/Fire Rescue community engagement,” said the Atlanta Police Foundation, a not-for-profit that helps fund police initiatives through private-public partnerships in a statement on its website.

But the training center drew opposition almost immediately, coming on the heels of a tumultuous year of high-profile cases of police brutality and strained community relations.

Cara Tabachnick contributed reporting.

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