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GBI says bodycam video exists of aftermath of deadly 'Cop City' clash

The protest movement against the future Atlanta Police training center has contested official accounts of the shooting of an activist known as Tortuguita.

ATLANTA — The Georgia Bureau of Investigation said Monday that there was bodycam video of the aftermath of a shooting last week, in which a Georgia State Patrol trooper was injured and an activist was killed at the site of a planned Atlanta Police training center that has been met with a yearlong protest movement known as "Stop Cop City."

The bureau also said it had confirmed through firearms transaction records that the gun in the deadly clash was legally purchased more than two years ago by the activist who was killed, an individual known as Tortuguita.

The GBI has said during a clearing operation last week that Georgia State Patrol troopers encountered Tortuguita, whose legal name was Manuel Esteban Paez Teran, and that the protester shot a trooper. Paez, who used they/them pronouns, was killed in return fire according to the GBI's account of events.

The bureau had previously posted a photo of the handgun on Twitter, identifying it as a Smith & Wesson M&P Shield 9mm. The GBI had also previously said ballistic analyses matched the bullet from the trooper's wound to the handgun.

The protest movement against "Cop City" has contested official accounts of the shooting, saying it isn't clear who fired the first shot or if Paez ever actually fired.

RELATED: No GSP bodycams in deadly 'Cop City' shooting, but other agencies may have recorded aftermath

They have pointed to the lack of bodycam video, in particular. So far none has been released. 11Alive reported on Friday that while state law enforcement officers, such as GSP troopers, do not wear bodycams, it was likely the officers from police agencies such as Atlanta Police and DeKalb Police who were operating nearby would have captured something in relation to the shootings.

"The Task Force consisted of several agencies. The officers who were near the incident at the time of shooting were not wearing body-worn cameras. Although the shooting is not captured on bodycam, there is bodycam footage of the aftermath," the GBI said Monday.

Atlanta Police told 11Alive on Friday that its officers had bodycam videos that were "part of an ongoing investigation" and "not being released, at this time." The department did not detail at that time what might have been captured on the videos.

On Saturday night, protests against Tortuguita's death through Downtown Atlanta began at Underground Atlanta before splintering, with some demonstrators lighting a police vehicle on fire and breaking windows at buildings, including one targeted for housing the Atlanta Police Foundation. Six people were arrested after those demonstrations.

The foundation is primarily funding the construction of the future training complex, an 85-acre, $90 million facility to be built on the Old Atlanta Prison Farm site under a lease agreement with the city.

There have been several clashes between the protesters and police or other city service employees over the last year because of the complex, which was approved by the City Council in 2021. Protesters have had semi-permanent tree-sitting encampments for more than a year in the South River Forest area where the facility is to be built.

So far at least 14 people have been arrested in the forest and charged with domestic terrorism following a clearing operation in December and the one last week that resulted in the shooting.

The trooper, as of Monday morning, was in stable condition and resting, according to an update from the GBI.

The protest movement has mushroomed in the wake of Tortuguita's death, and activists have said responsibility for their killing lies with increasingly aggressive law enforcement tactics to clear the encampments.

Credit: Courtesy / Family

The GBI has characterized the operation as "asking people to leave," requesting ID and "if they comply, so be it."  

"There's a difference between protests and what's happening there," GBI Director Mike Register said of the encampments on Wednesday, adding "we're dealing not with protesters but with criminals."

Tortuguita's death has become something of a national rallying point for leftist and environmentalist groups. 

Greenpeace USA tweeted over the weekend that it was "joining cries of solidarity with Manuel and the forest defenders that are rising around the world." Figures such as actor Seth Green and former presidential candidate Marianne Williamson have also expressed sympathy to the movement.

One group aligned with the protesters, the Atlanta Solidarity Fund, has said it would be "preparing a legal team to investigate and pursue a wrongful death suit" in the incident. At least one Twitter account aligned with the protest movement was suspended after calling for "reciprocal violence" and a "night of rage" against police in response to the death.

The protesters have opposed the facility on environmental and historical grounds, saying it would decimate one of the largest preserved forest areas in the city and desecrate historically Native American land of the Muscogee Creek people, who once lived in the woods and called it the Weelaunee Forest before being displaced by white settlers in the early 19th Century.

They also oppose it on the grounds that the land was once the site of the Old Prison Farm, a jail complex that was billed during its operation in the mid-20th Century as an "Honor Farm" where prisoners farmed the land as a "dignified" means of imprisonment, a practice which has since been scrutinized for its profit generation and exploitation of unpaid labor.

The law enforcement community has argued the training facility would be a crucial component in stabilizing the police force, aiding in recruitment and retention after low morale and departures following the racial and criminal justice protests of 2020. 

They also say it would improve training and community ties, framing it as an answer to police reform demands stemming from the 2020 protests to eliminate contentious policing practices and reduce tensions. 

Atlanta Police have characterized the tree-sitters occupying the forest as outsiders. Chief Darin Schierbaum has said several arrested on the site had out-of-state driver's licenses, and at least three people arrested last month were said by the GBI to have had origins in Maine, California and Wisconsin. Of the most recently arrested group, none are from Georgia, according to the GBI, and only one of the six arrested after the demonstrations downtown over the weekend was from Georgia.

In addition to the loosely organized encampment/forest defender movement, there has also been visible local opposition from community groups who oppose the facility both environmentally and for its placement in a predominantly Black section of the city.

Kwame Olufemi of Community Movement told 11Alive's La'Tasha Givens last year it was "clearly not for us, it’s not for our community and it’s going to be adverse to us and our people."

Mayor Andre Dickens has backed law enforcement and the facility, both voting for it as a City Council member before his election as mayor and last week saying the city is giving "full support" to state and county partners to secure the site. 


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