A “Cop City” protester’s hands were raised when law enforcement officers who were attempting to clear the site of a planned police and fire training facility near Atlanta opened fire, an autopsy commissioned by the activist’s family found, attorneys say.
The hands of Manuel Esteban Paez Terán, 26, who was killed in January, showed exit wounds in both palms, according to a news release from attorneys on Friday. “The autopsy further reveals that Manuel was most probably in a seated position, cross-legged when killed.”
The Georgia Bureau of Investigation has said the officers shot Terán after the activist seriously wounded a state trooper during the move to clear activists from the site.
Terán was near a planned $90 million, 85-acre law enforcement training facility where opponents had camped out for months in an attempt to halt construction, CNN previously reported.
Attorneys for the Terán family said they plan to release the private autopsy Monday at a news conference. They claim the GBI, which is investigating the shooting, has not been transparent.
The activist’s mother, Belkis Terán, flew to Atlanta from Panama to show solidarity with the movement opposing the facility, dubbed “Cop City” by opponents.
“Imagine the police killed your child. And now then imagine they won’t tell you anything. That is what we are going through,” she said in Friday’s release on the second autopsy.
The GBI counters such claims, saying it is being careful about not making “inappropriate” releases of information, so as to “preserve the integrity of the investigation and to ensure the facts of the incident are not tainted. The GBI investigation still supports our initial assessment.”
According to the GBI, Terán opened fire on law enforcement from inside a tent after failing to comply with verbal commands, wounding the trooper. A handgun recovered from the scene matched the projectile from the trooper’s wound, the agency said.
There is no bodycam footage of the shooting.
“The GBI cannot and will not attempt to sway public opinion in this case but will continue to be led by the facts and truth,” the agency said. “We understand the extreme emotion that this has caused Teran’s family and will continue to investigate as comprehensively as possible.”
In a statement late Friday, the GBI said attorneys for the protester’s family incorrectly said the agency conducted the first autopsy. Rather, the GBI said, the DeKalb County Medical Examiner’s Office did the autopsy.
“The GBI continues to work diligently to protect the integrity of the investigation and will turn our findings over to an appointed prosecutor for review and action,” the statement says.
The Atlanta Public Safety Training Center is set to be built on a controversial piece of land that used to be a prison farm. Though it’s just outside city limits, that plot of land is owned by the city, meaning residents who live around the site don’t have voting power for the leaders who approved it.
Those backing the facility say it’s needed to help boost police morale and recruitment efforts. Previous facilities are substandard while fire officials train in “borrowed facilities,” the Atlanta Police Foundation has said. The foundation says the center will focus on “community-oriented” policing.
But “Cop City” has received fierce pushback since its conception by residents who feel there was little public input, conservationists who worry it will carve out a chunk of much-needed forest land and activists who say it will militarize police forces and contribute to further instances of police brutality.
Activists associated with protesting the facility have called Terán a “forest defender” working to fight environmental racism. They said Terán identified as nonbinary and was a “sweet, warm, very smart and caring” person. Belkis Terán said if her child had a gun, it was to protect against animals in the woods.
Twenty-three people arrested last weekend after violent protests at the site were charged with domestic terrorism and all but one were denied bond. Atlanta police say they were “violent agitators” who infiltrated a peaceful protest at the site and conducted a “coordinated attack” on officers and construction equipment.