Body-Cam Footage Raises New Questions in Deadly ‘Cop City’ Shooting

Atlanta Police Department
Atlanta Police Department

Body-cam footage released Wednesday raises new questions about the fatal shooting of an environmental activist by a state trooper last month at the future site of Atlanta’s “Cop City.”

Authorities said an officer gunned down Manuel “Tortuguita” Teran on Jan. 18 because Teran opened fire first, hitting a state trooper as officers conducted a sweep of the forest where Teran and dozens of others had protested—and lived—for months.

Authorities claimed in January that there was no video of the shooting available. On Wednesday, however, Atlanta police released footage of officers near the shooting, which captured audio of at least a dozen gunshots, despite not capturing the gunfire visually.

Also in the clip was an unnamed officer’s reaction to the gunfire, which implied law enforcement may have been shooting at each other.

“Man,” the officer said. “You fucked your own officer up.”

Activists, who’ve proclaimed Teran’s innocence, honed in on that soundbyte Wednesday, claiming it discredited the Georgia Bureau of Investigation's story that Teran opened fire and struck a state trooper first before cops fired back at him.

“I feel nothing but rage right now,” Micah Herskind, a local organizer against Cop City, wrote on Twitter. “Rage that they assassinated Tortugita [sic] and lied about it. Rage at a violent system that continues to claim lives and make the victims look like the villains.”

Herskind called the footage “completely damning.”

A memorial to activist Manuel Teran sits at the trail head near the “Cop City” construction site.

A memorial to activist Manuel Teran sits at the trail head near the “Cop City” construction site.

REUTERS/Megan Varner

State investigators told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution that they’re sticking with their initial story of what happened despite the newly-released footage.

“Our original assessment that we provided is based on the facts that have been uncovered in the investigation,” spokesperson Nelly Miles said. “It’s not based on a story that has been fabricated online and repeated in the media.”

The shooting came on the heels of months of protest near the construction site for the proposed police training facility, which supposedly cost $90 million and will include state-of-the-art explosive testing areas, firing ranges, and a mock city.

In addition to arguing it’s a waste of taxpayer money, environmental activists, like Teran, had campaigned to save the forest that’s likely to be destroyed to construct the facility.

Clashes with police had become violent in the past, but never fatal prior to January. Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp called the protesters “domestic terrorists” last year.

How a Police Protest in Atlanta Launched a ‘Domestic Terrorism’ Warzone

While state troopers don’t wear body-cams, Teran’s family had called on Atlanta police to release footage from their officers who were close to the scene and equipped with body-cams. In a press conference, they also said an independent autopsy revealed Teran suffered at least 13 gunshot wounds.

The footage released Wednesday—totalling more than 40 minutes across four videos—begins with Atlanta officers walking through the woods, destroying tents and confiscating items left behind by protesters. A seemingly light mood among the officers turns serious when gunfire breaks out just after 9 a.m.

The camera captures the officers taking cover behind trees, with one asking, “Is this target practice?”

People are heard screaming but their words are indiscernible. The cops appear to move closer to the gunfire, with one officer heard saying the shots “sounded like suppressed gunfire,” which another officer agreed with.

Moments later, the camera-wearing officer is heard saying, “man, you fucked your own officer up.”

A theory that the incident was an instance of “friendly fire” has been repeated by activists since the day of the shooting. On Jan. 18, an account named “Defend The Atlanta Forest,” tweeted about the theory just hours after Teran was pronounced dead.

“We have reason to believe the officer shot today was hit by ‘friendly fire’ and not by the protester who was killed,” the account wrote. “Do not believe the police and their media. Demand an end to police militarization and hands off the forest.”

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