Atlanta councilwoman calls for DOJ investigation into police shooting of 'Cop City' protester

An Atlanta city councilwoman is requesting the Department of Justice open an independent investigation into the police killing of Manuel Esteban Paez Teran, a demonstrator at the Atlanta Public Safety Training Center site, after autopsy results call into question law enforcement accounts about what happened.

Teran, who went by "Tortuguita" and used they/them pronouns, was shot and killed by police on Jan. 18 as officers raided campgrounds occupied by environmental demonstrators who had allegedly been camping out for months to protest the development of the training center, dubbed "Cop City" by critics.

On Wednesday, DeKalb County released the autopsy results related to Teran's death. According to the report, Teran did not have gunpowder residue on their hands. Officials claimed Teran fired the first shot at a state trooper. Officers then responded with gunfire. The report stated Teran had at least 57 gunshot wounds in their body, including the hands, torso, legs and head.

Manuel Esteban Paez Teran was killed by officers during a raid of the South River Forest area after the GBI says he opened fire, striking a GSP trooper.

Manuel Esteban Paez Teran was killed by officers during a raid of the South River Forest area after the GBI says he opened fire, striking a GSP trooper. (Supplied)


On Thursday, member of council Liliana Bakhtiari released a statement in response to the autopsy results calling upon the DOJ to get involved.

Bakhtiari argues that the Georgia Bureau of Investigation's (GBI) investigation was biased and tainted because of its involvement in the operation to clear the forest of protesters.

"I don’t see how they could have done that because I don’t see how any investigation they could’ve led could’ve been done without misleading narratives," Bakhtiari said.

"The autopsy report released yesterday by DeKalb County raises even more questions about the official accounts relating to the killing of Tortuguita Teran, & casts additional doubt around the legitimacy of the GBI’s ongoing investigation into the joint operation in South River Forest," Bakhtiari's statement reads in part. ""With public confidence compromised and having had multiple agencies involved in the incident, I am once again calling for the United States Department of Justice to open an independent investigation into what actually transpired in the South River Forest."

An independent autopsy from the family found that Teran’s hands were raised during the fatal shooting. The DeKalb County autopsy stated, however, "there are too many variables with respect to movement of the decedent and the shooters to draw definitive conclusions concerning Mr. Teran's body position."


There is no body camera footage of the incident as the Georgia State Patrol, which was the one of the agencies involved in the multi-jurisdictional sweep on Jan. 18, does not wear body cameras, according to the Georgia Bureau of Investigation. 

"Tort and their family deserve answers. The people of Atlanta deserve transparency. And as a city that prides itself as the cradle of the civil rights movement, we must do the work to reconcile the death of a peaceful climate activist —occupying public land— at the hand of the state."

The GBI, however, maintains that their initial narrative of the incident is accurate, which was that Teran opened fire on troopers first.

It announced last Friday that its role in the investigation was complete. The agency declined to comment on Bakhtiari's call for a federal investigation.

The case is currently in the hands of a specially-appointed prosecutor George Christian, the Mountain Judicial Circuit District Attorney.

He will decide whether the troopers' use of force was legal after DeKalb D.A. Sherry Boston recused herself from the case, prompting Christian’s appointment from the Prosecuting Attorneys Council of Georgia.

"The city deserves answers, city council deserves answers, towards family deserves answers, the officers’ families deserve answers because we do not know what happened," Bakhtiari said. "That’s what happens when you don’t wear body cameras in the year of 2023."

Multiple requests for comment from the D.O.J. went unreturned on Friday.