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Person killed and trooper shot as ‘Cop City’ protesters are cleared from a planned Atlanta police training center

The officer-involved shooting is the latest clash between protesters and officials over the proposed Public Safety Training Center, which will stretch 85 acres on forested land.
Georgia state troopers stand with a local police officer in Atlanta on Jan. 18, 2023.
Georgia state troopers stand with a local police officer near the site of a proposed training center in Atlanta on Wednesday. John Spink / Atlanta Journal-Constitution via AP

A person was killed and a Georgia trooper was injured Wednesday as officials cleared out the site of a controversial proposed law enforcement training center in Atlanta.

Tensions have been rising in the city over the proposed Public Safety Training Center: a sprawling stretch of 85 acres of forested land in DeKalb County that will have a shooting range, an amphitheater and a mock city that will be used for training.

Opponents have called the center "Cop City," and protesters have camped out in the area to decry construction.

A multiagency operation to clear out the area was conducted around 9 a.m. Wednesday.

Law enforcement found a man in a tent inside the woods who "did not comply" with verbal commands and shot a Georgia State Patrol trooper, the Georgia Bureau of Investigation said in a news release.

GBI Director Mike Register said the man opened fire "without warning."

Other law enforcement officers returned fire, hitting the man, who died at the scene, the GBI said.

Release of the man’s identity is pending notification of his family, officials said. A handgun and shell casings were found at the scene. 

The injured trooper was taken to a hospital, where he underwent surgery. 

The trooper was stable in intensive care after he underwent surgery, but he still has a "road to recovery," State Patrol Col. Chris Wright said in a news conference.

The GBI is investigating.

Register said four people were arrested in the clearing-out operation. The GBI release said that they were taken to the DeKalb County Jail and that charges are pending.

A movement called Defend the Atlanta Forest, which opposes the training center plans, contradicted the GBI’s account, saying: “Police killed a forest defender today, someone who loved the forest, someone who fought to protect the earth & its inhabitants. This is why we organize to stop Cop City. And we will."

The organization said the operation was part of a “pattern of police directly threatening the lives of protestors and moving through the woods with drawn weapons, which has occurred intermittently for the last 8 months.”

The group said its ground sources reported hearing 12 continuous “rapid fire” shots, not an exchange of gunfire. 

"We know there is no history of protestors shooting firearms at police in this movement thus far, but there is a significant pattern of police acting jumpily, making verbal threats, and pointing firearms at people they encounter in the woods," the statement said.

NBC News has asked the GBI for comment about the allegation.

The Atlanta Solidarity Fund, a group that supports people arrested at protests, tweeted: “We are preparing a legal team to investigate and pursue a wrongful death suit.”

Register said that over the past "several months" law enforcement has experienced "growing criminal behavior and terroristic acts" by people and groups who oppose the training center, which is part of a $90 million public safety campaign in Atlanta.

He said the acts included arson, physical attacks, intimidation, the use of explosives and the setting of booby traps that have the potential to cause great bodily harm. 

Last month, five people were arrested and charged with domestic terrorism after they threw rocks at police cars and attacked EMTs outside fire stations near the proposed site with rocks and bottles, the GBI said.

In that incident, authorities arrested people found occupying makeshift treehouses. The GBI said they found explosive devices, gasoline and road flares after they cleared out the area. 

Protesters who oppose the facility say it would devastate one of the largest preserve forest areas in the city, say the land has historical Native American significance. It was once the site of the Old Prison Farm, where prisoners farmed the land, a practice scrutinized for its profit generation and exploitation of unpaid labor, NBC affiliate WXIA of Atlanta reported.