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Environmentalist shot dead protesting $90 million Atlanta ‘Cop City’ died with his hands up, autopsy finds


An environmental activist who was shot and killed by police in January protesting the construction of Atlanta’s $90 million ‘Cop City’ training center has died with his hands up, according to an outside autopsy requested by his family.

On Jan. 18, a multi-agency group of Georgia law enforcement officers entered a forest outside of Atlanta that is expected to house a massive police training complex. The woods became the center of a multi-year, multi-faceted resistance movement that culminated in groups camping in the woods in protest.

According to state officials, 26-year-old Manuel Esteban “Tortuguita” Paez Terán shot and injured a police officer and was killed when officers returned fire.

Terán’s family claim the activist was a pacifist and would not have shot police without provocation, and called on officials to release all evidence in the case so far.

“We still don’t know what happened in the forest on the morning of January 18,” civil rights attorney Brian Spears said at a news 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 publish the investigation report.

The autopsy, conducted by a former GBI medical examiner, suggests that Tortuguita was shot 14 times, including a fatal blow to the head.

“At some point during the shooting, the deceased was able to raise his hands and arms up and in front of his body, palms facing up his body,” the autopsy states, according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

(The reviewer, Dr. Kris Sperry, resigned from office in 2015, after a AJC investigation revealed that he was claiming hundreds of hours of agency work when he really did work for outside clients, and had accumulated various conflicts of interest while working as a paid forensic consultant.)

Paez Terán’s family sued the Atlanta Police Department, calling on them to release additional evidence about the shooting.

According to the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, no body camera footage of the shooting itself exists, although Atlanta police have released their own footage suggesting some officers initially believed the shooting began with a shooting incident. accidental friend, rather than an activist attack.

The GBI told The Associated Press on Monday it was refusing to release 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 office, ballistic evidence shows the injured officer was hit by a bullet from the same gun that Paez Terán legally purchased in 2020.

As The Independent reported, the Atlanta City Council has approved the “Cop City” project, which will feature full-scale replicas of urban environments for military-style police training, despite vigorous opposition from community members.

The movement to stop the project has united an unusually diverse coalition of activist groups, including civil rights organizers concerned that the project will further entrench Atlanta’s disproportionate police violence against black people, while environmentalists fear that the project no longer wastes a polluted forest area once dubbed one of the city’s “lungs”.

Clashes between police and protesters have escalated since the shooting.

Local authorities resorted to the unprecedented step of charging many of the protesters involved in the domestic terrorism movement, even though a review of charging documents suggests that most of those hit with the heavy charge had committed the tantamount to trespassing and had not seriously injured anyone.

Last week, dozens of people were arrested after a construction vehicle was set on fire and officers were beaten with rocks and bricks at the site of the police training center project.

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