The Dallas Morning News
Family urges info on shooting
They say police fired at 26-year-old activist at least a dozen times
DECATUR, Ga. — The environmental activist killed by authorities in an Atlanta-area forest last month was shot at least a dozen times, the slain protester’s family said Monday while urging officials to release more information about the death of the 26-year-old who went by the name Tortuguita.
The news conference was held outside a Decatur courthouse just as a large contingent of law enforcement officers accompanied contractors with heavy equipment to a site near the South River Forest about 6 miles away. The contractors were beginning to clear the woods for a planned police and firefighter training center that opponents call “Cop City,” news outlets reported.
The Georgia Bureau of Investigation has said officers killed Tortuguita in self-defense on Jan. 18 after the protester, whose given name was Manuel Esteban Paez Terán, shot a state trooper while authorities cleared activists from the forested site.
Tortuguita’s mother, father and brother, as well as their attorneys, said the GBI has been silent instead of responding to the family’s pleas for information about last month’s fatal shooting.
Civil rights attorney Jeff Filipovits said the details offered by authorities so far do not make sense with those who knew Tortuguita to be a “kind (and) compassionate person” — not a “domestic terrorist,” a charge that has been filed in recent months against nearly 20 protesters accused of being part of the leftist “Stop Cop City” movement.
“The family needs answers,” Filipovits said. “So far we’ve had selective information released by the GBI. They are not answering questions. They are not providing the family with any information to understand what happened in the forest.”
The GBI has said no body camera or dashcam footage of the shooting exists, and that ballistics evidence shows the injured trooper was shot with a bullet from a gun that Tortuguita legally purchased in 2020.
Filipovits said the GBI refuses to say whether there was any audio or video recordings from drones, helicopters or other surveillance cameras that could have been in use during the incident.
Following the news conference, the GBI released a statement asking for patience, saying it is “not releasing any videos currently because agents are continuing to conduct key interviews and want to maintain the integrity of the investigation.”
“We owe it to the trooper and [Paez] Terán to complete a thorough investigation,” the GBI said. “When we began our case, we contacted and spoke with [Paez] Terán’s family. We intend to follow up with the family as the investigation progresses.”
Filipovits’ law partner Brian Spears said that Tortuguita’s body was released to the family last week and that they had an independent autopsy conducted. They said the autopsy found that Tortuguita was shot 12 or 13 times, perhaps more, from multiple firearms.
The protester’s body was “riddled with bullets,” Spears said.