Family of activist killed by police at Atlanta 'Cop City' protest camp pushes for answers
"We are living a horror," said the mother of the dead protester.
The Georgia Bureau of Investigation announced Monday that it is conducting a "thorough" probe of multiple law enforcement officers involved in the fatal shooting of an environmental activist during a raid last month on protesters camped out in a forest near a police training facility under construction in Atlanta, according to officials.
The investigation will also look into the alleged conduct of the deceased protester, 26-year-old Manuel Esteban Paez Teran, who authorities allege fired the first shot during the confrontation with officers and wounded a Georgia state trooper.
"It has been stated that the GBI is investigating Teran, but agents are actually investigating the actions of all individuals connected to this incident, including Teran and law enforcement," the GBI said in a statement.
The announcement followed a news conference by Teran's family and their attorneys, who accused the GBI of failing to be transparent in their probe of the shooting. The family's attorneys also revealed that a private autopsy concluded Teran was shot at least 13 times and the bullets that hit him came from several different firearms.
"Killing a person who was sleeping in a forest doesn't make sense to me. We are living a horror," said Teran's mother, Belkis Teran, adding that she does not believe her son fired a gun at police.
She said her son was a "pacifist" and that he and his fellow protesters were attempting to protect the forest where the $90 million public safety facility dubbed "Cop City" by demonstrators is being constructed.
"All Manuel wanted to do was to protect the forest, preserve the good of the land for all people," Belkis Teran said.
Jeff Filipovits, an attorney for the Teran family, said relatives sent a request for a meeting with GBI officials back on Jan. 30 to be briefed on the investigation, but received no reply.
"We know very little about what happened on that day and Manuel's family is here seeking answers," Filipovits said.
In its statement Monday, the GBI said it spoke to Teran's family when it launched the investigation.
"We intend to follow up with the family as the investigation progresses," the GBI said in the statement.
The agency said the investigation consists of several types of evidence, including witness statements and forensic test results. It said GBI agents are still combing through footage taken by numerous body-worn cameras of officers connected to the incident.
"We ask for your patience while we go through the processes needed to complete the investigation," the GBI said in its statement. "At that time, our case file will be given to a special prosecutor."
Teran was part of a protest group calling itself "Stop Cop City." The group has demonstrated against the 85-acre training facility for months, saying the center will further militarize the police.
In December, several peaceful protesters at the facility were arrested and charged with "domestic terrorism" under state law, Filipovits said.
On Jan. 18, officers from several law enforcement agencies were conducting a "clearing operation" of a camp protesters established at the construction site. During the operation, officers claimed Teran refused to comply with verbal commands, drew a gun and shot a state trooper in the abdomen, prompting other officers to return fire, killing Teran, according to the GBI.
The trooper who was shot remains in a hospital in stable condition, according to the GBI.
The GBI said a handgun recovered from the scene had been purchased by Teran.
Several large protests have occurred in downtown Atlanta over Teran's death, prompting Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp to declare a state of emergency on Jan. 26.
"The GBI has always conducted investigations with the highest expectation of quality and thoroughness," the agency said in its statement. "We will continue to serve the citizens of Georgia to the best of our ability, to include the investigation of the incident which occurred January 18th."
The agency said an officer-involved shooting investigation usually takes 60 to 90 days to complete.