Private autopsy shows officers shot ‘Cop City’ activist at least 13 times, attorneys say

A flyer at the entrance of Intrenchment Creek Park claiming that Manuel Teran, aka "Tortuguita," was murdered by police. Teran was shot and killed by police on Jan. 18 while protesting a proposed public safety training center to be built in the South River Forest. (Matthew Pearson/WABE)

A private autopsy has allegedly revealed several different officers shot environmental activist Manuel Teran at least 13 times during a raid at the proposed site of Atlanta’s public safety training facility on Jan. 18.

Civil Rights Attorney Brian Spears said on Thursday that Teran’s family is demanding that the Georgia Bureau of Investigation release whatever audio and video exists of the incident as well as any other information that could help shed light on what happened.

“Any evidence, even if it is only an audio recording, will help the family piece together what happened on the morning of January 18th,” Spears stated. “This information is critical, and it is being withheld.”

For more than a year, law enforcement has clashed with protestors who oppose the City of Atlanta’s plans to build a $90-million, 85-acre training facility for police and firefighters within forestland in south DeKalb County. While officials claim the project is intended to reduce violent crime, it’s attracted groups organized around environmental protection and those concerned with police violence.

The GBI’s early account of the shooting is that Teran was inside a tent when police officers were on an operation to clear out the forest surrounding the area. According to the GBI, Teran did not comply with officers’ commands, leading to “an exchange of gunfire,” where a state trooper was first shot and injured.

The agency has said there is no body camera or dashcam footage of the shooting, but that ballistic analysis shows the trooper was shot by a bullet from a handgun in Teran’s possession. Records show Teran legally purchased the firearm in 2020.

But, Teran’s family, as well as other protestors, question the official version of events.

“Manny was a kind person who helped anyone who needed it,” Teran’s mother, Belkis, stated. “He was a pacifist. They say he shot a police officer. I do not believe it. I do not understand why they will not even privately explain to us what happened to our child.”

Civil Rights Attorney Jeff Filipovits says the GBI has only selectively released information about Teran’s death.

“They claim Manny failed to follow orders,” Filipovits stated. “What orders? The GBI has not talked about the fact that Manny faced a firing squad, when those shots were fired or who fired them.”

Seven Democratic state senators also released a statement on Thursday, calling for an independent investigation into the incident. They include Gail Davenport, Jason Esteves, Nabilah Islam, Kim Jackson, David Lucas, Josh McLaurin and Nan Orrock.

“We are disappointed that there is no body camera footage available and believe we must ask the hard questions about why that is and what we can do to ensure that such transparency and accountability is guaranteed going forward,” it states. “We are hopeful that answers will be found, and that the voices of those living in the communities most affected by this conflict will be listened to above all others.”

Meanwhile, Atlanta Mayor Andre Dickens signed a memorandum of understanding with DeKalb County earlier this week to move forward with the construction of the police and firefighter training facility. A date has not been set for construction to begin.

Teran’s family will hold a press conference at 10 a.m. on Feb. 6 outside the Historic DeKalb County Courthouse.

Learn more about the conflict over the South River Forest.