Photo: Cheney Orr/Reuters
The environmental activist who was killed by police in Atlanta while protesting Georgia’s planned “Cop City” was shot more than a dozen times, according to private autopsy results released by his family.
Officers from multiple agencies shot and killed Manuel Esteban Paez Terán, also known as Tortuguita, on January 18 after authorities moved through the activist camp in the forest to protest a proposed $90m police training facility. Thousands of officers from the Atlanta police department, Dekalb county police, Georgia state patrol, Georgia bureau of investigation and the FBI passed through the camp.
Related: Georgia wants to define ‘Cop City’ protests as terrorism, experts say
According to police, Paez first shot and wounded a state trooper with a handgun. However, the Georgia bureau of investigation – or GBI – has said the shooting was not caught on body camera, prompting activists to call for an outside entity to review the case.
A private autopsy since conducted on Paez’s body revealed that he was shot at least 13 times by several different officers.
“Manny was a kind person who helped anyone who needed it,” said a statement attributed to Paez’s mother, Belkis Terán, released Friday. “He was a pacifist. They say he shot a policeman. I don’t believe it.”
Terán also said that the authorities have not taken the time to give her family a “private explanation” of how her son was killed.
The limited release of official information as described by Terán has raised many questions among family supporters.
A statement from civil rights attorney Jeff Filipovits argued that the GBI, which is leading the investigation into Paez’s killing, “has so far selectively released information about Manny’s death.”
“They claim that Manny failed to follow orders,” said the statement from Filipovits, who is representing the Paez family. “What are the orders? The GBI didn’t talk about the fact that Manny was in front of a firing squad, when those shots were fired, or who fired them?”
Paez’s family has since asked the GBI to release any audio and video footage related to his killing. “Any evidence, even if it’s just an audio recording, will help the family piece together what happened on the morning of January 18. This information is critical, and it is being withheld,” said attorney Brian Spears, who is working with Filipovits. .
Since the Atlanta city council voted to approve the 85-acre Cop City project in 2021, the local government has faced opposition from activists who want to protect the natural resources of the forest where the facility is to be built.
Last December, a handful of activists protesting there were arrested and charged with “domestic terrorism” under state law, a move unprecedented in US environmental activism.
According to experts, Paez’s death was the first time an environmental activist was killed by police in US history, reflecting a shocking crackdown on environmental activists across the country.