ATLANTA - The Georgia Bureau of Investigation is pushing back on claims on social media that a Georgia State Patrol officer was shot by his fellow law enforcement officers during a raid at the planned public safety training facility site in DeKalb County.
Officials released body camera footage on Wednesday showing officers clearing tents from the site critics have nicknamed "Cop City." In the videos recorded on Jan. 18, the officers are seen reacting after they heard the gunfire that left 26-year-old Manuel Esteban Paez Teran dead and a state trooper injured.
Four consecutive shots could be heard in the video being fired followed by a slit-second pause, and then a barrage of bullets of different calibers could be heard being fired. The timestamp in the upper right-hand corner of the videos showed 9:01:20 when the shooting started.
The Georgia Bureau of Investigation has said that no body camera or dashcam video of the actual shootings exists. The GBI has said officers encountered Teran, who went by Tortuguita, in a tent in the woods and fired in self-defense after the activist failed to follow verbal commands and shot a trooper.
Speculation on social media has been raised questions about statements made in the footage that been released. In the recording, the officers head in the direction of the gunshots as radio traffic bounces back and forth. At one point, one of the officers, seemingly reacting to the radio traffic, says, "You (expletive) your own officer up … Did they shoot their own man?"
Activists have singled out that comment, saying on social media that it supports assertions some made from the beginning that the trooper was shot by friendly fire.
In a statement Thursday, the family of Tortugita called the narrative provided by law enforcement "selective - and so far unsubstantiated."
"The videos released by the City of Atlanta raise more questions than they answer, but confirm the family’s worst fears that Manuel was massacred in a hail of gunfire," Tortuguita’s family said in a statement. "The videos also show the clearing of the forest was a paramilitary operation that set the stage for the excessive use of force."
Activists have questioned the official narrative and called for an independent investigation separate from that being done by the GBI. The family on Monday said an independent autopsy found that Tortuguita had been at shot at least 12 or 13 times by multiple guns and called for the release of more information.
The GBI has responded to these questions and speculation by asking for patience, saying it is "not releasing any videos currently because agents are continuing to conduct key interviews and want to maintain the integrity of the investigation."
In a statement Thursday, the GBI acknowledged that, in the videos, "at least one statement exists where an officer speculates that the Trooper was shot by another officer in crossfire." But it goes on to say, "Speculation is not evidence. Our investigation does not support that statement."
The agency also said that its initial assessment that Tortugita fired the first shots which hit the state trooper "is still valid."
City Council approved the $90 million Atlanta Public Safety Training Center in 2021, saying a state-of-the-art campus would replace substandard offerings and boost police morale, which is beset by hiring and retention struggles in the wake of violent protests against racial injustice that roiled the city after George Floyd’s death in 2020.
Self-described "forest defenders" say that building the 85-acre "Cop City" would cause an environmentally damaging loss of trees. They also oppose investing so much money in a project that they say will be used to practice "urban warfare."
Tortuguita, who preferred that moniker over their given name, had moved from Florida months ago to join the activists in the woods who had been protesting for over a year by camping out at the site.
The GBI has said that records show that a handgun found at the scene was purchased by the activist in September 2020. Ballistics analysis has confirmed that the bullet that injured the trooper matches that gun, the agency said.
The January clearing operation was the latest attempt by law enforcement to remove the project’s opponents from the site.
Over the last two months, at least 19 people have been arrested on charges including domestic terrorism related to protests against the training facility. Six of those arrests came during a Jan. 21 protest in downtown Atlanta after Tortuguita’s death that prompted GOP Gov. Brian Kemp to declare a state of emergency, giving him the option of calling in the Georgia National Guard to help "subdue riot and unlawful assembly."
Since then, local officials have vowed to move forward with the project. Tuesday, FOX 5 learned that 30 officers who would normally patrol the streets of Atlanta would be assigned to guard the now-cleared property 24-hours a day to make sure there are no further trespassing incidents.
Atlanta Police say more videos are forthcoming.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.