FAYETTEVILLE, Ga. (AP) — Federal and local authorities are investigating a Georgia-based black separatist group for a variety of possible criminal offenses, including drug and weapons offenses, kidnapping and human trafficking, a detective testified Tuesday at a court hearing in suburban Atlanta.
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports that Fayetteville police investigator Diana Snider testified in trial court that she began investigating the Black Hammer Party after the group moved its headquarters to the city south of Atlanta. She said that she was contacted by the FBI, which said that they are also investigating.
Two members of the group have been charged with felony charges related to an alleged kidnapping and sexual assault in July at the home the group rents in Fayetteville.
A spokesman for the FBI office in Atlanta declined to comment, citing the agency’s policy of not commenting on ongoing investigations.
A federal indictment unsealed last month in Tampa, Florida, alleges the group is involved in an effort by a Russian national with Kremlin connections to sow discord in the United States by paying fringe groups to hold political protests. The indictment lists groups in Florida and California, as well as the Black Hammer Party, as unindicted co-conspirators in the plot.
Snider said federal agents have been watching the group’s attempts to recruit and arm homeless men as a security force and to aggressively solicit donations from college students at a downtown Atlanta park.
No criminal charges have been filed regarding those activities, the newspaper reported that Snider testified. Tuesday’s hearing relates to a July 19 call to police from a person who claimed she was abducted and held at gunpoint in a locked garage at the Fayetteville home.
Black Hammer leader Augustus Claudius Romain Jr., 36, known as Gazi Kodzo, and a high-ranking lieutenant, Xavier “Keno” Rushin, 21, were charged with kidnapping, aggravated assault, false imprisonment. , conspiracy to commit a felony and engage in street gang activity.
Romain was also charged with forcible sodomy. Snider testified that Romain required members of the group to have sex with him in order to advance within the Black Hammer Party.
Prosecutors dropped the conspiracy charges Tuesday. Magistrate Judge Christy Dunkelberger ruled there was enough evidence to bring the other charges to trial. Romain and Rushin remain jailed without bail.
Defense attorneys for Romain and Rushin on Tuesday questioned the information underlying the arrests, asking how a political party qualifies as a street gang. The group claims that it is being targeted by federal authorities for its political activities.
The alleged sexual assault victim refused to speak to police at the time of the arrests and the alleged kidnapping victim who called police is homeless.
“This whole case seems to stem from one person’s statement,” said Stacey Flynn, Romain’s attorney, referring to the man who called police.
Fayetteville Detective Justin Taylor said the man told police he and another Black Hammer recruit had been forced into a locked garage and held at gunpoint when the victim refused Romain’s order to everyone went to bed at 8 pm because the group had a protest the next morning. Taylor testified that Romain and another Black Hammer member, 18-year-old Amonte “AP” Adams, had guns.
Adams was found inside the home when police raided, dead from what police said appeared to be a self-inflicted gunshot wound. The Black Hammer Party, without evidence, accused the police of shooting Adams. Taylor said an autopsy on the man has been completed, but a report is not yet available.
Snider said police and the FBI are investigating three other abductions that allegedly occurred at the home.
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