Watch Environmentalist shot protesting $90m Atlanta ‘Cop City’ died with hands up, autopsy finds – Latest News
An environmental activist who was fatally shot by police in January protesting the construction of Atlanta’s $90m “Cop City” training centre died with their hands up, according to an outside autopsy requested by their family.
On 18 January, a multi-agency group of Georgia law enforcement officers entered a forest outside of Atlanta that’s slated to be home for a massive police training compound. The woods have become the centre of a multi-year, multi-faceted resistance movement that’s culminated with groups camping out in the woods in protest.
According to state officials, Manuel Esteban “Tortuguita” Paez Terán, 26, fired upon and injured a police officer and was killed when officers returned fire.
Terán’s family says the activist was a pacifist and wouldn’t have fired on police unprovoked, and has called on officials to release all the evidence in the case so far.
“We still do not know what happened in the forest in the morning of January 18,” civil rights attorney Brian Spears said at a press conference on Monday. “The second autopsy is a snapshot of what happened but it’s not the whole story. What we want is simple: GBI [Georgia Bureau of Investigation] meet with the family and release the investigative report.”
The autopsy, conducted by a former GBI medical examiner, suggests Tortuguita was shot 14 times, including a likely fatal hit to the head.
“At some point during the course of being shot, the decedent was able to raise his hands and arms up and in front of his body, with his palms facing towards his upper body,” the autopsy says, according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
(The examiner, Dr Kris Sperry, resigned from the bureau in 2015, after an AJC investigation found that he claimed hundreds of hours of agency work when he was really working for outside clients, and that he racked up various conflicts of interest while working as a paid forensic consultant.)
Paez Terán’s family has sued the Atlanta police department, calling for them to release additional evidence about the shooting.
No body camera footage of the shooting itself exists, according to the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, though Atlanta police have released footage of their own suggesting some officers initially believed the shooting began with an accidental friendly fire incident, rather than an attack from the activist.
The GBI told the Associated Press on Monday it was withholding releasing additional information to prevent the “inappropriate release of evidence” while it investigates the shooting.
GBI officers were also present during the operation that killed Tortuguita.
According to the bureau, ballistic evidence shows that the wounded officer was struck with a bullet from the same gun Paez Terán bought legally in 2020.
As The Independent reported, the Atlanta city council approved the “Cop City” project, which will feature large-scale replicas of urban environments for military-style police training, over the vigorous opposition of community members.
The movement to stop the project has united an unusually diverse coalition of activist groups, including civil rights organisers worried the project will further entrench Atlanta’s disproportionate police violence against Black people, while environmentalists worry the project will further spoil a polluted forest area once dubbed one of the “lungs” of the city.
Clashes between police and demonstrators have continued to escalate since the shooting.
Local officials have resorted to the unprecedented step of charging many of the demonstrators involved in the movement with domestic terrorism, even though one review of charging documents suggests most of those hit with the steep charge had committed the equivalent of trespassing and hadn’t seriously harmed anyone.
Last week, dozens of people were detained after a construction vehicle was set on fire and officers were hit withrocks and bricks at the site of the police training centre project.