Out-of-state demonstrators could be targets of federal charges

Published: Jan. 24, 2023 at 6:28 PM EST
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ATLANTA, Ga. (Atlanta News First) - A former federal prosecutor suspects state and federal authorities are battling over how to handle those charged with domestic terrorism stemming from a protest that turned violent and destructive in downtown Atlanta on Saturday.

“I have no doubt that the feds and state authorities are talking about this and trying to come to the best conclusion for moving forward,” said Scott Hulsey, who served two years under the former U.S. Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates.

Hulsey said the cases currently remain in the state’s hands and they will likely argue they have the motivation to try the cases in Georgia.

On Tuesday, Attorney General Chris Carr tweeted, “We are not Oregon. We are not California. We are not Washington. You cannot come to our state, break our laws, throw rocks at buildings, damage property, and shoot police officers. You can and you will be charged, and that’s exactly what we’re doing.”

Several downtown business owners continued cleaning up debris and damage left after the protest turned violent when hundreds of protesters took to the streets in response to Manuel Teran’s death. He was shot and killed at the future site of the Atlanta police training facility on Jan.19.

Hulsey said the feds will argue that because so many of those arrested are from out-of-state, that the feds are best equipped to prosecute.

“The federal system is better equipped to deal with cases that cross state lines. They have better tools to collect evidence. They have national reach and scope,” said Hulsey, who now is a private practice attorney at Barnes & Thornburg in Atlanta.

On Monday, six demonstrators were charged with a series of misdemeanor and felony offenses, including domestic terrorism.

Two defense attorneys argued the punishments were too harsh given that their clients were not present when multiple cop cars were burned and the vandalism took place.

“Then everybody ran, except for him. That’s why he got arrested. There is no evidence he committed any vandalism,” said the attorney for Graham Evatt, a 20-year-old demonstrator from Decatur arrested on Saturday.

Kamau Franklin, a local organizer against the development of the public safety training center, said these domestic terrorism charges are overly harsh.

“Anyone at this stage who is arrested and is associated with cop city or trying to stop cop city is getting the charge of being domestic terrorism,” said Franklin. “And we think this is purposeful to create a narrative of the dangerous protester,” Franklin said.

Franklin said he rejects the state’s continued framing that the demonstrators are all outsiders.

“Dr. King went all over the country to protest and he also was called an outsider. He also was called a terrorist and a criminal for protesting against oppressive laws and oppressive situations,” Franklin said on Monday.

In 2017, the state legislature passed a measure to rewrite the state’s domestic terrorism law to give the state attorney general more authority to prosecute alleged terrorists.