Sometime in 2022, Francis Carroll moved into a forest near Atlanta where he lived among others protesting plans to build a sprawling police training center on land that once belonged to the Muscogee Creek peoples.

Tension over the land, which was previously used as a prison farm, has been brewing for at least two years as locals debate the future of the forest. Conflicts have intensified in recent months as more details emerged about the proposed Atlanta Public Safety Training Center, a $90 million project on 85 acres of undeveloped land.

Francis Carroll Fulton County Jail photo

On Dec. 13, police officers went to the forest to remove barricades protesters had put up and address what police characterized as “ongoing criminal activity,” including arson, carjacking and “various crimes against persons.” Among the five people arrested and charged with domestic terrorism was Carroll, a 22-year-old from Kennebunkport with no criminal history.

Carroll was arrested for a second time last week when the tension over the training center – dubbed “Cop City” by opponents – and the shooting death of a protester erupted during a protest in downtown Atlanta that began as a peaceful march. By the end, windows were broken, a police cruiser was set on fire and five protesters were behind bars, once again charged with domestic terrorism and various other crimes.

Despite the simmering friction and death, the violent end to the demonstration on Jan. 21 was “a surprise and shock to a lot of people,” said Josh Schiffer, a private Atlanta attorney who represents Carroll and two other protesters.

Carroll had been living in the forest in DeKalb County for “many, many months,” his attorney said, but it’s not clear how he got involved with the protests. Schiffer said it was not his place to speak about Carroll’s background or ideologies, just to defend him against the accusations.


Carroll is still being held at the Fulton County Jail and was not available for an interview. The state asked the courts to revoke the bond from his first arrest in nearby DeKalb County.

“These are extraordinarily serious charges. We disagree with them and look forward to a full examination of all the state’s evidence,” Schiffer said.

Public safety and elected officials in Georgia say protesters have been violent and destructive.

Demonstrators protest the death of environmental activist – known as Tortuguita – in Atlanta on Jan. 21. The activist, whose whose given name was Manuel Esteban Paez Terán, was killed Jan. 18 after authorities said the 26-year-old shot a state trooper. R.J. Rico/Associated Press

“We will not tolerate violence or property destruction,” Atlanta Mayor Andre Dickens said after last week’s protest. “Many of (the protesters) don’t even live in Atlanta or the state of Georgia and don’t represent the voices of Atlanta. Some of them were found with explosives on them. Make no mistake about it: These individuals meant harm to people and to property.”

Like Carroll, most of those who are facing charges are from out-of-state.



Opposition to the police training center began even before the Atlanta City Council voted in September 2021 to lease the undeveloped land for the project. The council vote followed 17 hours of mostly negative public comment, according to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

It was pitched as a training site for members of the Atlanta Police Department, Atlanta Fire Rescue, the city’s 911 call center and K-9 units. It will include a shooting range and a mock city to use for training exercises. The first phase of the center is expected to open by the end of 2023.

The Atlanta Police Foundation says the new center will improve morale and training and “set a national standard for community engagement, neighborhood sensitivity and devotion to the civil rights of all citizens by law enforcement.”

“Atlanta will finally have training facilities worthy and appropriate to training a 21st Century police force. Our conception is for a training center that is publicly accessible and designed to encourage police/citizen interaction to engender trust within the community,” according to the foundation’s website.

Opponents, however, say the forest is at risk of destruction as “the police and Hollywood make plans to pave over Atlanta’s largest remaining green space,” according to Defend the Atlanta Forest, a loosely organized autonomous movement that includes people from across the country. The movement also opposes the development of about 40 acres of land adjacent to the training center site.

It’s not clear how Carroll is involved with the Defend the Atlanta Forest movement.


Protesters aligned with Defend the Atlanta Forest say the training center will “hyper-militarize” law enforcement and equip police with a site to train for the suppression of Atlanta’s Black and working-class communities. They also argue that the city’s tree canopy is a main source of resiliency in the face of climate change, the forest’s wetlands filter rainwater and prevent flooding, and that it is the last breeding ground for many amphibians in the region.

“Stop Cop City” demonstrations have been held in cities outside Georgia and the death of  26-year-old Manuel Esteban Paez Teran, who was killed by police during a Jan. 18 protest at the site where he shot and wounded a police officer, has gained worldwide attention.


Since his first arrest in December, speculation about Carroll’s background and motivation has circulated on social media and in publications like The Daily Mail, which described Carroll as the son of a millionaire surgeon who grew up in a seaside mansion before becoming “radicalized” in college.

Carroll and other protesters facing charges frequently are referred to online as domestic terrorists with ties to antifa.

“The nomenclature being used with these issues is very concerning to me,” Schiffer, Carroll’s attorney, said. “People are wielding words that are inaccurate and baseless with some of their accusations and labeling, particularly with the term domestic terrorist.”


Carroll, who goes by Frank, grew up in Kennebunkport, one of three children of a general surgeon. His parents own a five-bedroom home that they bought in the 1990s that is now valued at $1.5 million, according to town records.

Carroll was an honor roll student at the Middle School of the Kennebunks and Kennebunk High School. It’s not clear where or if he went to college. Social media pages for Carroll lacked details and appear not to have been used in some time.

Attempts to reach Carroll’s parents to discuss their son’s participation in the Atlanta protests were unsuccessful. No one appeared to be home Friday when a reporter visited the family home in Kennebunkport.

Carroll was released from jail in late December on a $13,500 bond for his first arrest, in which police said he was involved in a standoff and fight with police as they tried to remove barricades. Protesters are accused of throwing glass bottles and rocks, possessing pipe bombs and resisting arrest.

He’s facing charges that include domestic terrorism, arson, willful obstruction of law enforcement, criminal damage to property and riot. The domestic terrorism charge carries a sentence of between five and 35 years in prison.

Schiffer said there are conflicting reports of what happened during the altercations with police and he anticipates a review of “copious amounts of video, audio and testimonial evidence.”

“Mr. Carroll anticipates and requests a thorough investigation into his arrest, as well as that of so many people he knows in the Atlanta Forest Defender community,” he said. “There are more unanswered questions than facts involving all state actions against the protesting citizens selectively chosen for arrest and the process will reveal the truth.”


CORRECTION: This story was updated at 4:59 p.m. on Jan. 31, 2023, to correct a reference to the ownership of about 40 acres of land adjacent to the training center site.

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