UPDATE: The Atlanta Solidarity Fund released a statement on the arrests Friday afternoon. A full copy of the statement is available at the bottom of this article. The three organizers arrested on Wednesday were granted bonds of $15,000 each Friday afternoon.
Just after 9:00 a.m. Wednesday, officers with the Atlanta Police Department (APD) and the Georgia Bureau of Investigations (GBI) raided The Teardown House in East Atlanta. Police arrested three organizers with the Atlanta Solidarity Fund, a non-profit that provides bail and legal support to protestors who are arrested. The arrests are part of a wave of repression facing protestors who oppose the Atlanta Public Safety Training Center, more commonly known as “Cop City.”
Marlon Kautz, Adele Maclean and Savannah Patterson were booked at DeKalb County Jail and charged with one count each of money laundering and charity fraud. A representative from the Solidarity Fund said Maclean was taken to Grady Hospital for a pre-existing spinal condition before being transported to DeKalb County Jail.
These arrests come just a week after news that the Cop City project will cost residents $67 million, instead of the $30 million consistently told to the public since 2021. Atlanta City Council will vote whether to fund Cop City on Monday, June 5.
If found guilty of the charges, the money laundering charge comes with a fine of $500,000, up to 20 years imprisonment, or both. The charity fraud charge carries a fine of $10,000 or the total amount of the fraudulent solicitations and criminal penalties of up to $5,000, a minimum of one year in jail with up to a five-year maximum, or both.
Warrants against the organizers cite reimbursements as evidence of money laundering. The reimbursements listed are for “expenses such as gasoline, forest clean-up, totes, covid rapid tests, media, yard signs,” “moving the jail support hotline to a new plan,” and “purchase of a safe via amazon.”
“This is an extreme provocation by Atlanta Police Department and the State of Georgia,” said Lauren Regan, Executive Director of the Civil Liberties Defense Center. “Bailing out protestors who exercise their constitutionally protected rights is simply not a crime. In fact, it is a historically grounded tradition in the very same social and political movements that the city of Atlanta prides itself on. Someone had to bail out civil rights activists in the 60’s–I think we can all agree that community support isn’t a crime.”
In a pre-written statement prepared in case of the arrest of Atlanta Solidarity Fund organizers, Kautz described their organization as “existing for seven years with the sole purpose of providing resources to protestors experiencing repression. We ensure their rights are respected through the criminal justice system, and we provide access to representation to assist them with navigating the legal system.”
Kautz said the use of criminal charges against the Atlanta Solidarity Fund “will have repercussions on the ability of movements to create change across the country,” and called the tactic “a new playbook that criminalizes the coalition of advocates who are providing financial and physical support to movements.”
Georgia Governor Brian Kemp weighed in on the charges on Twitter. Kemp continued the use of the “outside agitator” narrative levied against protestors, stating that Kautz, Maclean, and Patterson “facilitated and encouraged domestic terrorism.” Similar language was used against Civil Rights leaders in Atlanta in the 1960s.
Judge Shondeana Morris, who signed the warrants against the Atlanta Solidarity Fund organizers, was appointed to the DeKalb County Superior Court by Governor Brian Kemp on June 17, 2019. Prior to Judge Morris’ appointment, she served as a DeKalb County State Court Judge.
Georgia Attorney General Chris Carr issued a statement similar to Kemp’s, saying, “As we have said before, we will not rest until we have held accountable every person who has funded, organized, or participated in this violence and intimidation.”
Georgia Democrats on Twitter questioned the raid and intent behind it.
The strongest criticism came from State Senator Josh McLaurin, who said, “My understanding after a couple conversations is that this is all happening at the direction of [Georgia Attorney General] Chris Carr. It’s an attempt to score cheap political points by being reckless with people’s lives. This empty, 1990s-style tough-on-crime bullshit is tired and dangerous.”
Georgia State House Representative Saira Draper, who represents the 90th District in which The Teardown House is located, made a statement on Twitter expressing concern about the raid and arrests.
“I’m deeply concerned about the raid directed by the Georgia Attorney General’s office today in Edgewood, a dense and thriving residential neighborhood in Atlanta. I don’t know the specifics of the charges yet, but at this moment, SWAT and helicopters seem grossly excessive for arresting individuals accused of money laundering and ‘charity fraud.’ What I do know is weaponizing the powers of the state for political gain is abuse of power,” Draper wrote.
Atlanta City Councilmember Liliana Bakhtiari likewise expressed scrutiny of the arrests.
“I am deeply concerned that in polarized times, actions like these can inadvertently set new precedents that can jeopardize the rights that we value as Americans. Given the heightened state of tension throughout our community related to the Public Safety Training Center, this action deserves the utmost scrutiny and sensitivity as it moves through the legal process,” Bakhtiari said on Twitter.
In a statement from DeKalb County Jail, Kautz said “[he is] not intimidated, and is committed to doing the important work to support activists.” The Solidarity Fund Representative who passed along the statement describe Kautz’ attitude as grateful for the outpouring of support and “very chill about the whole thing.”
As of December 2022, prosecutors made frequent insinuations that the Atlanta Solidarity Fund was at the center of their investigation of the Stop Cop City and Defend the Atlanta Forest Movement. DeKalb Assistant District Attorney Peter Johnson argued that activists who wrote the number of the Solidarity Fund on their body had the intent to commit a crime and that the Solidarity Fund was “being investigated as part of the whole thing.”
Bail funds have a long history in the United States, existing since the dawn of the Civil Rights Era. Churches and community groups including the NAACP came together to fund Martin Luther King Jr.’s $4000 bail after his arrest in Birmingham, Alabama. Without the collective bail fundraising the equivalent of $39,000 in today’s dollars, King likely would have had to continue his campaign from jail instead of on the streets.
The National Bail Fund, comprised of over 90 local-community based bail and bond funds, stepped in shortly after the arrests to temporarily take over bail support operations for the Atlanta Solidarity Fund while its organizers face these repressive charges. Donations to pay bail and legal support for those arrested in and around Atlanta are now directed to a new Act Blue website.
Activists in the Stop Cop City movement expressed continued commitment in the face of these new charges and statements by Kemp and Carr.
“This is targeting of organizers and movements by the police and the state. Bail funds have been a part of organizing the Civil Rights movement and labor movement. We will continue to fight back against Cop City and the political arrest of our friends and comrades,” said Kamau Franklin, an organizer with Community Movement Builders.
Members of the Stop Cop City Movement said they will be holding a noise demonstration at the DeKalb County Jail at 6:30 p.m. today, May 31.
Activists are also planning a sixth “Week of Action” in Atlanta against Cop City from June 24-July 1.