GBI confirms gun belonged to activist killed at police training facility
Six people were arrested in downtown Atlanta over the weekend and now face domestic terrorism charges after a protest against the death of an environmental activist who was killed by authorities earlier this month became destructive.
All but one of those arrested are from out of state and range in age from 20 to 37 years old.
The protest on Saturday, Jan. 21, started out peaceful at Underground Atlanta, where several hundred people turned out to mourn the death of Manuel Teran. The 26-year-old was a nonbinary person who went by the name “Tortuguita” – Spanish for “little turtle.”
Authorities say Teran shot a state trooper in the abdomen, and officers fired back during a raid on Jan. 18 at the proposed site of a police training facility within forestland just south of Atlanta that activists call “Cop City.”
For more than a year, law enforcement has clashed with people living in the forest who oppose the city’s plans to build a $90-million, 85-acre training facility for Atlanta police and firefighters. While officials have said the project is intended to reduce violent crime, it’s attracted protestors organized around environmental protection as well as those concerned with police violence.
Confrontations in the last year include protestors throwing rocks and bottles at first responders and accusations of police shooting rubber bullets at protestors.
At the protest on Jan. 21, masked activists dressed in all black marched up Atlanta’s famed Peachtree Street chanting phrases like, “If they build it, we will burn it” and “Nothing is going to bring our friend back. Justice for Tortuguita.”
Tommy was one of those protestors. She declined to give her last name but said she was motivated to show up because she’s “sick” of hearing about marginalized people who are killed by police.
“We deserve better,” Tommy said. “[Justice would be] stopping ‘Cop City,’ arresting and prosecuting the cops who killed Tort, and making sure that we just completely reform that system. I feel like we’re going backwards.”
Teran’s friends and other activists in the area held a vigil for Teran at the site of the proposed facility the night before. Jenna Eddy said she and her children had recently grown close to Teran, often bringing Teran supplies like clean socks and food while they camped in the forest.
Eddy said she doesn’t know what would help bring justice for Teran.
“We’re doing this all out of love and love for everybody,” Eddy said. “Tort showed us that more than anybody. They were the leader of that more than anyone.”
Others said similar things about Teran at the protest. However, about an hour after it started, a group began lighting fireworks in front of the skyscraper that houses the Atlanta Police Foundation and shattering glass windows and spray painting the side of buildings with the words “Stop Cop City.” They also lit a police car on fire and damaged several others. No one was injured.
Mayor Andre Dickens said at a press conference later that night that while officials would continue to protect the right to peacefully protest, they would not tolerate violence or property destruction.
“My message is simple,” Dickens said. “To those who seek to continue this type of criminal behavior, we will find you, and we will arrest you, and you will be held accountable.”
Atlanta Police Chief Darin Schierbaum said the “small group” of individuals involved in the violence were not representative of the citizens of Atlanta or reflected the values of the city.
“I know that the mechanisms of the collaboration of law enforcement stands behind me,” Schierbaum said. “The prosecutors that are engaged in this case will hold those accountable, and we will start to see this activity diminish… It’s only a matter of time.”
Since December, nineteen people have been charged with domestic terrorism in connection to the proposed Atlanta training facility. Even so, more protests are planned across the country this week, including in Atlanta, in solidarity with the movement.
On Monday, the Georgia Bureau of Investigation confirmed earlier reports that the handgun and spent shell casings that were recovered from the scene belonged to Teran. The agency stated Teran purchased the handgun in September 2020, according to a firearms transaction record.
The agency’s statement was in direct response to media reports and protestors who question officials’ version of events, calling it a “murder” and demanding an independent investigation. Those calls only grew over the weekend after the GBI said the incident was not recorded on body cameras.
“Although the shooting is not captured on bodycam,” the GBI stated on Monday, “there is bodycam footage of the aftermath.”
The trooper’s name involved in the shooting has not been released over fears of retaliation, but the GBI says he was taken to a local hospital for surgery and is reported to be in stable condition.
The GBI’s investigation is ongoing.