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Forest Defenders Appear For Preliminary Hearings

One Granted Bond, Two Denied Pretrial Release.

DeKalb County, Georgia – Two defendants arrested in March during a music festival against ‘Cop City’ were again denied bond Wednesday in DeKalb County Magistrate Court, while a third was granted $25,000 bond with conditions. The defendants, all of whom are facing domestic terrorism charges for their alleged participation in the movement against the sprawling police training complex, have been detained since their arrests two months ago.

Luke Harper and Victor Puertas were denied bond, while Fredrique Robert-Paul was granted a $25,000 bond with conditions including relinquishing her passport, remaining in Georgia pending trial, severing contact with codefendants, and avoiding discussing the movement against ‘Cop City’ on social media.

In all three cases, Judge James Altman was reconsidering bond rulings decided by the DeKalb County Superior court in past hearings. In Harper’s case, Altman ruled to uphold the existing no-bond ruling, while in Puertas’ case, Altman decided not to issue a ruling one way or the other, deferring to Superior Court Judge Gregory Adams’ prior ruling. In Robert-Paul’s case, Altman overturned the ruling, granting her pretrial release if bond is paid.

During the hearings, held to establish probable cause for the domestic terrorism charges each of the defendants are facing, the state presented evidence demonstrating the nature of a March 5 protest at a ‘Cop City’ construction site, which the state claims the defendants participated in.

Through aerial surveillance footage and sworn testimony of law enforcement officers, DeKalb District Attorneys Peter Johnson and Lance Cross attempted to connect the three defendants to the fiery protest that ran police out of the South River Forest in March. While the state showed surveillance footage of the riot, none of the defendants were shown to have committed acts of violence or property damage during the hearings.

Among the evidence the state presented to establish probable cause was sworn testimony from Georgia Bureau of Investigation Special Agent Ryan Long. As the lead investigator for the agency’s handling of ‘Defend the Atlanta Forest’ investigations, Long’s justifications for arresting the defendants hinged on things like the defendants being found in wet or muddy clothes, wearing dark-colored clothing, and allegedly fleeing from police.

At one point during Robert-Paul’s hearing over Zoom video, Judge Altman interrupted the proceedings to remind everyone that in the 1980s, ash trays were a regular fixture in Georgia courtrooms. Altman then proceeded to light and smoke a cigarette on the bench while considering the case.

Altman ruled that the prosecution showed adequate probable cause to uphold the domestic terrorism charges against all three defendants. While no video or testimonial evidence concretely showed any defendant committing a crime, the state met what Altman described as a low-level, “kinda sorta” standard to suggest that the charges were based in probable cause.

Defense attorneys representing the jailed forest defenders in the three separate hearings argued for the court to issue bonds and allow the jailed forest defenders to be released pending trial.

During the first of Wednesday’s three hearings, Judge Altman denied bond to Luke Harper on the grounds that he had no apparent ties to the community and may pose a flight risk as a resident of another state. In Robert-Paul’s case, Altman ruled that she was less likely to flee if her Canadian passport was revoked, and granted her bond in light of her ability to stay in Georgia. Puertas was denied pretrial release for lack of “significant” ties to the community, among other reasons.

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