A newly released autopsy of forest protector Manuel Esteban Paez Terán reveals that police shot Terán at least 57 times during a raid of anti-”Cop City” protesters’ camp in January — and that the police narrative that officers acted in response to a gunshot from the activist is likely completely fabricated.
After months of calls from activists and family members of Terán — whose chosen name was Tortuguita — for the release of their autopsy, DeKalb County released it this week as the result of a public records request. The autopsy shows that Tortuguita had at least 57 gunshot wounds on their body, including shots to their head, hands, torso and legs.
Crucially, the autopsy also found that there was no gunpowder residue on Tortuguita’s hands. This strongly suggests that police lied about Tortuguita shooting first — a narrative that activists have said many times was a complete fabrication, and one that was also contradicted by an independent autopsy done by Tortuguita’s family showing that their hands were up as they were shot.
That narrative was also contradicted by the release of body camera footage in February that appeared to show that it was not Tortuguita who fired at a police officer, but instead friendly fire from another officer that police used as an excuse to barrage Tortuguita with bullets and kill them.
In light of the evidence that the police narrative surrounding Tortuguita’s death is likely a lie, anti-“Cop City” advocates have likened the forest defender’s killing to a murder, assassination or outright execution by police, carried out with the aim of demonstrating the lengths that police are willing to go in order to crush anti-police protests.
“The official autopsy is released showing Tortuguita the forest defender didn’t have gunpowder residue on their hands and had at least 57 gunshot wounds in their body, including the hands, torso, legs and head,” said Community Movement Builders organizer Kamau Franklin on Twitter. “This is Murder.”
“Police are liars, murderers. [Georgia State Police] killed Tortuguita and [the Georgia Bureau of Investigation] helped cover it up,” wrote anti-”Cop City” movement Defend the Atlanta Forest.
Activists have said that police have continually lied about Tortuguita’s death and about the protest against “Cop City” in general, as government agencies, politicians and prosecutors have united to violently suppress the movement against the planned $90 million police compound; recently, police raided an anti-“Cop City” music festival, where officers swarmed attendees, attacked them with tear gas and charged dozens of people with domestic terrorism.
Police have frequently used domestic terrorism charges to repress the anti- “Cop City” movement, leveling such charges to vilify organizers and ultimately justify killing or imprisoning demonstrators for exercising their right to protest.
The stakes have never been higher (and our need for your support has never been greater).
For over two decades, Truthout’s journalists have worked tirelessly to give our readers the news they need to understand and take action in an increasingly complex world. At a time when we should be reaching even more people, big tech has suppressed independent news in their algorithms and drastically reduced our traffic. Less traffic this year has meant a sharp decline in donations.
The fact that you’re reading this message gives us hope for Truthout’s future and the future of democracy. As we cover the news of today and look to the near and distant future we need your help to keep our journalists writing.
Please do what you can today to help us keep working for the coming months and beyond.