Federal agents speak exclusively to Channel 2 about investigations into training center arsons

ATLANTA — In a Channel 2 Action News exclusive, for the first time, federal agents are going on camera about their parts in investigating violent crimes related to opposition to a new police training center in Atlanta.

Agents from the Federal Bureau of Investigation Atlanta Field Office and the Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives Atlanta Field Division told Channel 2 investigative reporter Mark Winne that when an Atlanta Police Department car was burned near an officer’s home last weekend, authorities believed a small violent faction of those opposing the building the Atlanta Public Safety Training Center was upping the ante.

The group has, according to Atlanta Police Chief Darin Schierbaum on Saturday, been committing arsons in protest for close to two years.

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As the situation has escalated, the FBI, ATF worked with Atlanta police, the Georgia Bureau of Investigation and several others to call their hand, and are looking at the possibility of federal charges in addition to the state charges already brought in dozens of cases.

“It’s very dangerous right now how they’re escalating, so we’re getting more and more involved. We’ve been lucky so far and we’re trying to do everything we can to stop this escalation,” FBI Atlanta Acting Assistant Special Agent in Charge Benni Jonsson said.

ATF Atlanta and FBI Atlanta said that, in connection with the arson burning of Atlanta police motorcycles last summer, both agencies have worked hand in hand with APD and the GBI to execute three search warrants and a state arrest warrant that led to the apprehension of one suspect so far.


“Multiple” explosions and suspected arsons are under investigation related to the Atlanta Public Safety Training Center, and the ATF told Channel 2 Action News they were assisting in those investigations.

ATF Atlanta Assistant Special Agent Beau Kolodka said they’re using a lot of their agents and members of their national teams.

“It’s comprised of individuals who have experience and expertise in [the] origin and cause of fires and processing explosive scenes. We have forensic chemists, we have fire safety engineers. We utilize our fire research lab,” Kolodka said.

Kolodka said it’s a measure of how seriously federal authorities are taking violent crimes like arson related to opposition to the new training center. Showing the seriousness of their part of the investigation, Kolodka said the ATF brought in its high-tech, highly trained and highly experienced national response team.

“We’re utilizing our forensic science labs as well as forensic auditors, so we bring a slew of expertise in some of these scenes,” Kolodka continued.

Jonnson said that if the evidence justifies it, agents will confer with prosecutors about bringing federal or state charges.

“It’s okay for your group and other groups to protest. It’s a First Amendment right, it’s something that we support, something that we fight for those rights, but doing criminal violent acts like starting with tree spiking, destroying construction equipment and attacking law enforcement officers with incendiary devices, projectiles and doing arson, that’s something completely different,” Jonnson said.

Jonnson said when you burn a car outside a residence where there are multiple houses nearby, and families are living and sleeping there, the individuals responsible are now “jeopardizing your citizens as well.”

FBI Atlanta said their agents are going door to door where the police car was burned last weekend and have found residents cooperative, but angry at what had been done in their neighborhood.

An FBI spokesman said there is a $200,000 reward through CrimeStoppers for information that leads to an arrest in a violent crime involving the Atlanta Public Safety Training Center.

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