Detractors of Cop City project face legal troubles

Detractors of the Atlanta Public Safety Training Center, commonly known as Cop City, are facing mounting legal hurdles as many continue their efforts to have a referendum on ballots to put the controversial project to a vote in November.

On Sept. 1, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit, located in Atlanta, ruled to suspend (known legally as ‘stay’) Judge Mark Cohen’s July decision ruling in favor of four plaintiffs from DeKalb County who sued the city of Atlanta for the right to collect referendum petition signatures.

Cohen’s original ruling not only allowed for DeKalb County residents to collect signatures, it also reset the 60-day window of time required for the collection process.

However, the grant of the appeal on Sept. 1 puts at least a temporary halt to Cohen’s ruling.

“We are disappointed that the 11th Circuit has stayed the injunction in this case, particularly given the confusion this ruling creates and lack of clarity provided by the court,” said Mary Hooks, tactical lead for the Cop City Vote Coalition in a statement shortly after the ruling. “To be clear, this does not mean the petition itself has been invalidated or disqualified, only that the Northern District’s injunction has been stayed pending a full decision.”

Officials with the city of Atlanta also released an updated statement on their petition submission review process on Sept. 1 after the stay by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit was issued.

“The ongoing petition process is the first the city of Atlanta has ever conducted, so the city has developed policies and procedures by reference to existing Georgia law,” the statement reads, in part. “The city’s core goals are to take all reasonable steps to ensure the city’s qualified electors, and only those electors, are permitted to sign these petitions. There have been false claims that the review process will rely on Optical Character Recognition (OCR) in reviewing signatures and/or somehow require an exact signature match. Those rumors are entirely false. All reasonable efforts will be made to accept a signature and cure any discrepancies if they exist.”

The statement from Atlanta officials also notes that no petition had been submitted as of Sept. 1.

Then, on Sept. 5, Cop City detractors were delt another blow when a criminal indictment against more than 60 people allegedly involved with the movement were hit with Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO) charges.

The indictment states, in part, that the defendants are part of Defend the Atlanta Forest, a group of detractors “with the purpose of occupying parts or all of 381 forested acres in DeKalb County that is owned by Atlanta Police Foundation and leased by the city of Atlanta for the purpose of preventing construction of the Atlanta Public Safety Training Center. Each individual charged in the indictment knowingly joined the conspiracy in an attempt to prevent the training center from being built. That conspiracy contained a common purpose to commit two or more acts of racketeering activity in Fulton County, elsewhere in Georgia, and in other states.”

The indictment goes on to state that the group’s actions have included “vandalizing private property, arson, destruction of government property, attacks on utility workers, attacks on law enforcement, attacks on private citizens and gun violence.”

The United States Department of Homeland Security has classified many of those associated with Defend the Atlanta Forest as domestic violent extremists, according to the indictment.

Activists leading the ongoing referendum effort against the project immediately condemned the charges, calling them “anti-democratic,” according to Associated Press.

“These charges, like the previous repressive prosecutions by the State of Georgia, seek to intimidate protesters, legal observers, and bail funds alike, and send the chilling message that any dissent to Cop City will be punished with the full power of the government,” the Cop City Vote coalition said in a statement. “(Georgia Attorney General) Chris Carr may try to use his prosecutors and power to build his gubernatorial campaign and silence free speech, but his threats will not silence our commitment to standing up for our future, our community, and our city.”

This is a developing story.

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