One person was killed and a Georgia state trooper was wounded in an incident near the site of a proposed Atlanta law enforcement training center, the Georgia Bureau of Investigation said.
Activists have previously clashed with law enforcement at the site of the city’s planned $90 million, 85-acre center, which is to be built in a forested area in a neighboring county. Opponents of the project – dubbed “Cop City” by activists – have camped out for months in the forest in an attempt to halt construction.
On Wednesday morning, the GBI and several other law enforcement agencies conducted a “planned clearing operation” at the site to remove people in the area and an individual allegedly “without warning shot a Georgia State Patrol Trooper,” GBI Director Mike Register said in a news briefing.
“Law enforcement personnel returned fire in self-defense and evacuated the trooper to a safe area. The individual who fired upon law enforcement and shot the trooper was killed in an exchange of gunfire,” Register said.
In a later news release, the GBI said officers “located a man inside a tent in the woods” at about 9 a.m.
“Officers gave verbal commands to the man who did not comply and shot a Georgia State Patrol Trooper. Other law enforcement officers returned fire, hitting the man. Law enforcement evacuated the Trooper to a safe area,” the updated release said.
The man died on scene, according to the release. A handgun and shell casings were recovered from the scene, the GBI said.
Authorities have not released any information about the person who was killed, pending next of kin notifications.
The injured trooper was out of surgery Wednesday afternoon and was in stable condition in the ICU, Commissioner of the Georgia Department of Public Safety Chris Wright said. The trooper was shot in the “abdomen area,” Wright added.
A movement opposing the planned training center disputed the GBI’s account that a protester fired upon authorities and that the fatal shooting took place in self-defense.
The “Defend the Atlanta Forest” movement’s Twitter account said Wednesday that “police killed a forest defender today, someone who loved the forest, someone who fought to protect the earth & its inhabitants.”
CNN has reached out to the Defend the Forest movement for further comment.
Kei Diliza, a Gresham Park resident who is affiliated with “Stop Cop City,” a local movement opposing the project, told CNN on Wednesday that reports from other members who were near the site conflicted the account that law enforcement gave regarding a protester shooting at them.
In an emailed statement to CNN, “Stop Cop City” said Wednesday’s law enforcement operation allegedly began “with numerous armed police shutting down a public road and pointing guns into the park.”
“Community members have been demanding police end brutal tactics against forest defenders for months. Just on Monday, over one hundred neighbors and organizers gathered at the DeKalb County Courthouse to demand an end to police repression of the movement to stop cop city,” the statement said.
In a statement on Twitter, Atlanta Mayor Andre Dickens – who was among the city council members who voted in favor of the training center in 2021 – said his team and the city’s police department “are providing full support to our state and county partners as they secure the site in DeKalb County and investigate the incident.”
“Our prayers of a speedy and full recovery are with this Trooper,” the mayor said.
Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp also tweeted Wednesday that he and his family “are praying for this brave Trooper and public safety officers across all law enforcement agencies today.”
The GBI is continuing to investigate the shooting and that investigation is “still active and fluid,” Register said.
Four people were also detained and charges were “forthcoming possibly,” Register added, but said authorities were still investigating whether those four were connected with the shooting.
Policing and environmental concerns against the center
Wednesday was not the first time authorities clashed with protesters on the site.
Last month, five people were arrested and charged with domestic terrorism after police agencies entered the site to remove barricades blocking entrances to the center, state officials said.
In May, eight protesters were arrested after a Molotov cocktail was hurled at police as authorities tried to remove them from the area, according to CNN affiliate WSB.
The Atlanta Police Foundation has said the center is needed to help boost morale and recruitment efforts, and previous facilities used by law enforcement are substandard.
The facility will include a shooting range, mock city and burn building.
But the plan for the training center has met with fierce resistance from a community still reeling from monthslong demonstrations against police brutality and racial injustice.
While some critics of the project see it as a response to the 2020 protests, city leaders have said the center will also help address police reform, but have not provided further details.
In Wednesday’s news conference, Register said that amid nationwide conversations about reforming police forces, building a new center that would “train police officers to be effective in engaging in the community is a great thing for the community.”
Some residents have also accused the city of blindsiding neighbors with what they said has been a largely secretive development process with little community input. Taxpayers will foot about $30 million of the facility’s cost, with the rest coming from private philanthropic and corporate donations, city officials have said.
Activists have also expressed concern over the project’s environmental impact: The training center would carve out a chunk of forested land and fragment what local advocates hope will become a network of connected green spaces across parts of Atlanta and DeKalb County.