ATLANTA — Opposition to the planned training center for Atlanta police and fire departments continues to grow after the Atlanta Police Department released body camera video Wednesday of January's fatal shooting at the site.
The videos show APD officers in the South River Forest woods where activists opposing the future training facility -- what they call "Cop City" -- have had semi-permanent protest encampments for more than a year.
On Jan. 18, a Georgia State Patrol trooper was shot and a multi-jurisdictional law enforcement task force shot and killed an activist, Manuel Esteban Paez Teran, who was also known as Tortuguita.
Since then, protesters have contested the official accounting of events provided by the Georgia Bureau of Investigation - which is that Paez Teran shot the trooper and was killed in return fire. The GBI has provided photos of a gun they say was used in the shooting and said a ballistic analysis shows a projectile recovered from the trooper's wound matches a gun tied to Paez Teran through purchase records.
Tortuguita's family has said the activist was a pacifist whom they don't believe would have shot anyone.
Up to now, no video evidence of the incident had been released, as the troopers who encountered Paez Teran do not wear body cameras (no state law enforcement officers do).
The APD officers were not at the scene of the shooting, but in their videos you can hear the moment the shooting happened. They also provide a window into the reaction by law enforcement as the shooting occurred, including immediate radio chatter and confusion.
Shortly after the release of the videos, protesters on social media began focusing on one moment in the video footage where an officer -- following the gunfire in the distance -- is heard saying, "You f***** your own officer up."
“Why would an officer say, 'man you f***** your own officer,' that can only mean one thing, it means that the GSP officers accidentally shot one another,” said Timothee Corey, a protester.
He and other protesters have argued the moment provides evidence law enforcement "murdered an environmental protester in the woods and are now trying to cover it up."
But in a statement following the release of the body camera footage, the Atlanta Police Department wrote, "In reviewing our officers' Body Worn Cameras footage, it is apparent the shooting situation evolved quickly and our officers had no immediate knowledge of the events at the shooting site at the time the shooting occurred. Several responding officers are heard commenting about the shooting as they approached the site. We have found no evidence to suggest these officers had any information on the events surrounding the shooting prior to their comments."
After the videos were released, Paez Teran's family once again asked for more transparency in the case and called for the GBI to speak with them.
"The videos released by the City of Atlanta raise more questions than they answer, but confirm the family's worst fears that Manuel was massacred in a hail of gunfire," the family's attorney said in a statement. "The videos also call into question previous reports regarding the events leading to the police shooting of Manuel Paez Teran." The family's full statement can be read at the bottom of this story.
Protesters 11Alive talked with side with the family's views and say the video goes against the original narrative released by law enforcement.
Former DeKalb County district attorney Robert James said the comments and the sound of gunfire, though, aren’t enough to make those accusations.
“The firearms experts that I have dealt with have all indicated that it takes more than that," James said. "There are a lot of variables -- how far away the weapon was, a lot of different things."
James added it also doesn't necessarily matter who shot first, for a law enforcement officer's actions to be considered justified.
“If a suspect is holding a weapon or if suspect draws, or pulls, or brandishes a weapon -- at that point that officer is going to be justified in using deadly force” James said.
In a statement, the GBI echoed similar sentiments about the video saying, in part, "an officer speculates that the Trooper was shot by another officer in crossfire. Speculation is not evidence. Our investigation does not support that statement." The GBI's full statement can be read at the bottom of this story.
But, that isn’t enough for protesters like Corey.
“The Georgia State Patrol and the GBI, they were quick to push out this narrative that Tortuguita was the one who shot the officer. They were quick to try to bury this narrative, all the while they had the footage," Corey said.
The GBI's investigation is still ongoing and they say their "initial assessment given by the GBI concerning the incident is still valid."
"Our investigation will continue to look at every aspect, to include statements made at the scene, and each will be evaluated," the bureau said.
Paez Teran family statement
The videos released by the City of Atlanta raise more questions than they answer, but confirm the family's worst fears that Manuel was massacred in a hail of gunfire. The videos also show the clearing of the forest was a paramilitary operation that set the stage for excessive use of force.
The videos also call into question previous reports regarding the events leading to the police shooting of Manuel Paez Teran. The GBI's refusal to provide the family access to the information in its possession continues to sow mistrust in it, particularly in light of the selective -- and so far unsubstantiated -- narrative it has put forth.
The family of Manuel Paez Teran continues to call on the GBI and DeKalb County Medical Examiner's Office to agree to a face-to-face meeting in which they share all the evidence collected in the investigation to date.
The GBI is committed to a full, complete, and accurate investigation. Yesterday, the Atlanta Police Department released bodycam video of their officers who were involved in the joint operation to clear the site of the future City of Atlanta Public Safety Training Center. In those videos, at least one statement exists where an officer speculates that the Trooper was shot by another officer in crossfire. Speculation is not evidence. Our investigation does not support that statement.
We ask for your patience as we continue our investigation. In addition to the collection of evidence, forensic evaluation and analysis, the investigative process includes among other things the interview of not only the officers at the immediate scene, but also all personnel who were present during the operation.
When the investigation is complete, all videos will be provided. One of the rationales behind not publicly releasing videos during active investigations is that witness interviews are a key way to obtain information regarding facts surrounding an incident. Memory and perception are fragile, and a myriad of factors can influence perception and memory, including an individual’s background, experiences, the turmoil, and emotional impact of a significant incident, as well as the viewing of a video before giving a statement. That is the rationale behind Georgia’s law which allows agencies to exempt the public disclosure of videos in an active investigation. (OCGA § 50-18-72(a)(4)).
The GBI is continuing to investigate the incident from January 18th and is being as comprehensive in the investigation as possible. The initial assessment given by the GBI concerning the incident is still valid. Our investigation will continue to look at every aspect, to include statements made at the scene, and each will be evaluated.