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Police crack down on trespassers at Pratt-Pullman Railyard

You may want to reconsider before posting the cool pictures you shot inside Pratt-Pullman Railyard to your social media accounts, particularly if your mode of entry was to slip through an opening in the fence.

Last week, the 25-acre facility on Rogers Street and Arizona Avenue in Kirkwood made headlines when the Atlanta City Council nominated the former rail car maintenance facility in Kirkwood as an official city Historic Building and Site .

But the abandoned railyard -- which is owned by the state of Georgia and managed by the Georgia Building Authority -- has long been a hot spot for law breakers. Now Capitol Police are hunting them down both IRL and on social media.

"We’ve been paying attention to trespassers for sometime in that particular area," said Georgia Capitol Police Captain Lewis Young who says Capitol Police have spotted trespassers at the railyard during routine patrols both day and night. But sometimes, they've found law breakers just by searching online.

"We have tracked some on social media who have been out there," Young said. Photographers or videographers will post images and videos online, he said, helping to give authorities the goods they need to make an arrest.

Instagram alone has more than 150 posts tagged #pullmanrailyard and while some were probably shot during licensed events, just as many most likely were not. Comments on some of the posts even allude to the practice of sneaking into the railyard for photo shoots.

Young was unable to immediately provide the number of arrests that have been made, but said most were for criminal trespass, a misdemeanor. Some trespassers however, may face stiffer penalties.

"We have seen an upswing of people that take pictures for a living – photographers and production companies," Young said.

When a business is involved, that could constitute theft of services which could be a felony or misdemeanor depending on the value of the services obtained or rather, how much someone benefits from images shot in a location that is very clearly marked as no trespassing.

Local attorney Clay Parks told Creative Loafing he is representing two clients accused of trespassing at Pullman Yard .

One client is being charged with a felony count of theft of service. Parks says the client spent about 35 hours in jail for posting a photograph from the Pullman Railyard on a "social media site maintained by a business he partially owns."

Young says Capitol Police work closely with GBA to separate the legitimate photographers and crews from those that are in fact trespassing.

"If they can legitimately be there, we have a police officer that is posted out there that works with the production company," he said.

In fiscal years 2015 and 2016, there were 14 productions each year with a license agreement through GBA bringing revenue of $235,000 and $150,000 respectively, according to records provided by GBA.

While film shoots are a helpful source of revenue, it isn't a long-term solution for the abandoned railyard.

A proposal from a local non-profit, Atlanta ContactPoint lead by David Epstein, seeks to create a sports center, nature preserve and urban farm out of the space, but there has not been any indication that the yard is available for sale or lease.

In May, the dangers of trespassing in the railyard were highlighted by the death of Alexander Flynn , a 19-year-old graduate of Dunwoody High School who fell 40 feet through a fiberglass skylight onto the concrete below.

Young said they haven't just used social media to apprehend criminals, they have also tried to issue alerts through social media reminding Atlantans that the railyard is off limits.

"We are not catching everybody," Young said. "We are trying to increase our enforcement efforts with the goal in mind of keeping people out of the property. Number one, it doesn't belong to them and they shouldn’t be there. And number two, there is a risk of getting hurt out there."

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About the Author

Nedra Rhone has been a features reporter with the AJC for 10 years. She’s written about everything from fashion to food to news.