Family members of climate activist Manuel Esteban Paez Terán are demanding answers regarding the January 18 police killing of their 26-year-old relative, commonly known as “Tortuguita.”
At a press conference held Monday morning outside the DeKalb County courthouse in suburban Atlanta, family members and lawyers discussed the results of a private autopsy and demanded access to the Georgia Bureau of Investigation’s (GBI) full record of events amid its ongoing probe.
According to the private autopsy, multiple officers from a joint task force shot Tortuguita at least 13 times during a raid on an encampment in the Weelaunee Forest. Tortuguita was part of a collective that occupied the forest in an attempt to prevent the construction of a $90 million, 85-acre police and fire training facility popularly known as Cop City.
The GBI alleges that Tortuguita fired a weapon before officers killed him. The GBI claims that it has traced the bullet that wounded a state trooper to a handgun found at the scene and has reportedly provided documents showing Terán purchased the firearm in 2020. However, law enforcement officials continue to evade basic questions about the fatal shooting.
“Manny was a kind person who helped anyone who needed it,” Tortuguita’s mother, Belkis Terán, said in a statement shared ahead of the press conference. “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,” she added.
Civil rights attorney Jeff Filipovits lamented that “the GBI has selectively released information about Manny’s death.”
“They claim Manny failed to follow orders,” said Filipovits. “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.”
The GBI has stated publicly that body camera footage of the shooting does not exist. However, the bureau has not yet stated whether there is any audio or video from other sources, such as drones or helicopters that were being used at the time.
Tortuguita’s family has requested that the GBI release whatever audio or video recordings of the shooting exist or any other information that could help illuminate what occurred.
“Any evidence, even if it is only an audio recording, will help the family piece together what happened on the morning of January 18,” said Brian Spears, a civil rights attorney with nearly five decades of experience litigating police shootings. “This information is critical, and it is being withheld.”
While the family searches for answers, Tortuguita’s killing “escalates concerns related to the construction of a police training center and the government’s willingness to deem activists as terrorists,” Fossil Free Media noted. “The power used against these activists will soon be used against other protesters.”
A coalition of more than 1,300 progressive advocacy groups published a letter last week calling for an independent investigation into the killing of Tortuguita. The groups also demanded the resignation of Dickens, a Democrat who they said parroted “the rhetoric of extreme right-wing Gov. Brian Kemp” when he condemned protesters rather than police officers after the shooting.
The coalition pointed out that Dickens and the Atlanta City Council have the authority to terminate the land lease for Cop City and implored local policymakers to do so immediately.
Originally published at Commondreams.org.