DEKALB COUNTY, Ga. — A special prosecutor will oversee the investigation involving the deadly law enforcement shooting at the future site of Atlanta's police training facility, state authorities announced Wednesday.
The Georgia Bureau of Investigation made the announcement after DeKalb County District Attorney Sherry Boston voluntarily recused herself from the case during a news conference Wednesday morning.
It all surrounds the death of a protester with the "Defend the Atlanta Forest" movement. Manuel Esteban Paez Teran, 26, was killed as law enforcement officers were conducting a clearing operation last week to remove trespassers from the old prison farm site in DeKalb County, where the Atlanta Police Foundation aims to build a new public safety training academy. Critics of the construction have dubbed the site "Cop City."
According to the GBI, Paez Teran was in a tent when Georgia State Patrol troopers asked them to leave. Paez Teran fired a shot at a trooper, striking the law enforcement officer; several troopers then returned fire, authorities said. The trooper survived, Paez Teran died at the site, authorities said.
Boston said it was only that piece of the case she was recusing her office from. Her office would still handle the prosecution for cases involving protesters accused of domestic terrorism.
DeKalb County court records show 27 protesters have been arrested since December. This does not include the six people arrested after the violent protests in Atlanta that left businesses damaged and an Atlanta police cruiser burned. The Fulton County District Attorney is overseeing those cases.
In DeKalb County, Boston choosing to remove herself from a case is a first in her career while in office, she said.
"My decision is based on several factors including our ongoing involvement with the multijurisdictional task force charged with holding those responsible who commit crimes," she said during a news conference.
Boston choosing to oversee one "Cop City" case and not the other has left others to speculate on her decision.
Boston said her reasoning is rooted in ensuring the investigation into Paez Teran's death is fair and accurate. In her letter of voluntary recusal, she said her office is part of the task force that investigates and prosecutes domestic terrorism acts happening in and around the future site of the public safety training center.
11Alive's Faith Jessie went to Boston's predecessor, Robert James, for further insight.
"It's a crime, it's one she's giving jurisdiction to prosecute," James said.
He said there is legal standing as to why she would have to recuse herself, also adding that in her situation, there's no clear-cut answer on what any other district attorney would have done.
"Unlike the state troopers, she's not engaged in any activities with the protesters. It looks bad, but in fairness the circumstances are different," he explained. "She didn't sign off on their actions."
As she stepped away from the trooper shooting, a state prosecutor will be appointed and sworn in.
James said the public should pay close attention to who the attorney is and ensure they have the necessary separation from the case so that it's tried fairly.