Georgia Authorities Withhold Footage in Activist’s Shooting, Shot 57 Times by Police

Controversy surrounds Georgia’s refusal to release evidence in police shooting of activist. Full story. 

Killed For Protesting?

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Georgia is under scrutiny for its decision not to release crucial evidence related to the police shooting and killing of activist Manuel Paez Terán, also known as “Tortuguita.”

This refusal has raised concerns among police accountability experts, who argue that it sets a dangerous precedent. 

Defending the Forest

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District attorney George Christian recently issued a 31-page report, stating that the police shooting of Manuel Paez Terán on January 18th was “objectively reasonable.”

Paez Terán was part of a group of “forest defenders” protesting against “Cop City,” a proposed police and fire department training center. 

Evidence Withheld

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However, Georgia’s decision to withhold evidence from this case has sparked outrage among experts and activists.

Dozens of officers from various agencies conducted a raid in a wooded public park where the “forest defenders” were camping.

The state claims that Paez Terán fired a gun, prompting six officers to open fire, ultimately causing his death with 57 gunshot wounds. 

No Footage of Shooting

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The Georgia Bureau of Investigation (GBI) has declared that the evidence will not be released to the Paez Terán family or the public due to a separate “criminal investigation and prosecution” related to the movement opposing Cop City.

The evidence includes photographs, audio interviews with witnesses, crime scene drawings, reports, forensic lab findings, and body camera footage. 

“Unique and Chilling”

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Jon Feinberg, an incoming president of the National Police Accountability Project, described this announcement as “unique and chilling.”

The state’s Rico (racketeering) indictment, which accuses 61 individuals of a criminal conspiracy connected to opposing Cop City, is the reason cited for withholding evidence.

The potential duration of the case could extend beyond the two-year statute of limitations for any lawsuits the family might wish to file. 

No Reason

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The decision has alarmed experts across the nation.

Samuel Sinyangwe, the founder of Police Scorecard, a data-based evaluation of policing by state, commented, “I have not heard of another case like this where a prosecutor cites Rico charges/investigations into a movement as a reason not to release information about a police killing.” 

Police Acting With Impunity?

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This decision raises serious questions about transparency in police shootings.

Several experts emphasized the importance of evidence in ensuring transparency and accountability in such cases.

Without access to evidence, it sends a disturbing message that police officers can take a life and withhold critical details, especially if the victim is associated with a particular movement. 

First Amendment Comes Last

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Lauren Bonds, executive director of NPAP, stressed the risks to individuals engaging in First Amendment-protected activities when there is a lack of transparency regarding the use of force by state actors.

Recent incidents, such as George Floyd’s killing, have shown an increased level of aggression by law enforcement in response to protests against police actions. 

Consequences of Activism

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The decision to link the withholding of evidence to the investigation of those opposing Cop City raises concerns about potential threats to movements aiming to prevent similar police training centers.

The message conveyed is that those who oppose such initiatives may face consequences for their activism. 

Environmental Objections

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Manuel Paez Terán, who identified using they/them pronouns, had been camping in the public park for several months alongside fellow “forest defenders” who were against the construction of the $90 million training center.

The police operation aimed at removing them from the forest resulted in the tragic shooting. 

Not So Friendly Fire

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The absence of body-worn cameras on the troopers involved and the presence of other agencies in the vicinity has led to ambiguity about what transpired.

Some body camera videos taken by Atlanta police in late January suggested conversations among officers about friendly fire, but these were not conclusively explained. 

To Die for a Cause

The GBI requested that additional videos not be released, citing an ongoing investigation into the shooting.

The death of Manuel Paez Terán mobilized a diverse movement against Cop City, drawing together activists, academics, environmentalists, teachers, lawyers, and unions who shared concerns about climate change, police abuse of power, and environmental discrimination. 

Legal Limbo

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The Paez Terán family has been seeking answers for nearly nine months, but the lack of access to evidence has left them with lingering questions.

Daniel, the brother of Manuel Paez Terán, expressed his frustration and stated that without the evidence, they are left in limbo. 

Power Imbalance

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The family seeks to understand the full truth behind the incident, and the absence of the investigative file delays their ability to process the situation.

The state’s decision to withhold evidence highlights a significant power imbalance between the state and the families of individuals killed by the police.

Footage Withheld

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Attorneys have been fighting to obtain access to body camera videos from the Atlanta police, but this is unrelated to the evidence that remains unreleased.

The precedent set by this decision is troubling, as it calls into question the transparency and accountability of law enforcement. 

Transparency and Justice

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Online the reaction has been swift, with many calling the police’s motives into question.

One such comment was “It’s raising questions about transparency and justice.”

Another dealt with the lack of police body camera footage, stating, “It couldn’t have anything to do with the 57 gunshot wounds, could it?”

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Featured Image Credit: Shutterstock / Drazen Zigic. The people shown in the images are for illustrative purposes only, not the actual people featured in the story.

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