Atlanta – The family of Manuel “Tortuguita” Terán, the forest defender killed by police in Atlanta’s South River Forest, addressed the public for the first time Monday to ask for transparency in the state’s investigation into the killing.
While some details about the Jan. 18 killing have slowly emerged, lawyers representing Terán’s relatives said the family has yet to receive a response of any kind from the Georgia Bureau of Investigation about the details of Tortuguita’s death.
On January 30, the family hand delivered a letter to the Georgia Bureau of Investigation (GBI), the agency overseeing the investigation, requesting a meeting with the agency, attorney Brian Spears said. The letter was delivered in hope of receiving an explanation of the details that led to Terán’s killing, but it has gone unanswered, Spears said.
Lawyers representing the family have petitioned the GBI to release audio and video recordings from any agencies involved in the raid that day. While Georgia State Patrol troopers aren’t required to wear body-worn cameras, other agencies present for the raid are equipped with them. The GBI has said that no other body-worn camera footage from that day is available. Lawyers also asked for any drone and surveillance camera footage from the site, but have not gotten a response, Spears said.
The calls for transparency come after an independent autopsy, which lawyers said was completed last Tuesday, revealed that Terán was shot at least 13 times by multiple people. To date, there has not been a full accounting of the events surrounding Tortuguita’s killing.
The GBI has cited its ongoing investigation into the killing as a reason to withhold information about January’s deadly raid. But Spears contended that there’s no reason to keep the information private since the state cannot bring charges against a dead person.
Alongside the demands for clarity and information about the killing, family members shared memories of Terán.
Belkis Terán, Tortuguita’s mother, addressed the crowd and shared memories of Terán as a compassionate, dedicated environmentalist who had committed years of their life to helping others.
“Killing a person who was sleeping in the forest does not make sense to me,” Terán said. “We are living a horror.”
While expressing her grief at the loss of a child, she also shared gratitude for the response from the community in the wake of Terán’s killing.
“On the other hand, as a family, we are also amazed and grateful for so much love, support and solidarity that we have received,” she went on to say.
Tortuguita’s father, Joel Paez, shared similar memories of Terán as a compassionate person who had long shown care for others. Paez urged others to remember Tortuguita for their work and dedication.
“We [are] certain that Manuel will live forever with all of us and those around the world who are meeting him since January 18,” Paez said. “Manuel left us a legacy.”
Daniel Paez, Terán’s brother, drew from his service in the US Navy and called on the police to stand up to unjust orders and intervene when they see wrongdoing.
Terán’s killing happened amid an escalation of police repression against ‘Cop City’ protestors, which has resulted in at least 19 people being charged with domestic terrorism since December.
“We don’t know what caused officers to shoot Manuel over 13 times, but we cannot ignore the context of Manuel’s death,” Jeff Filipovits, a lawyer specializing in civil rights litigation, said at Monday’s event.
Filipovits drew a connection between the historic trope of “outside agitators,” which has been used for decades to de-legitimize protest movements, with the state’s use of domestic terrorism charges against ‘Cop City’ opponents.
Among the justifications for domestic terrorism charges, according to arrest warrants, are claims that protestors were sitting in trees wearing camouflage and gas masks, sleeping in a hammock with another defendant, being a “known member” of a prison abolition group, and being present in the forest when a Georgia State Patrol trooper was shot last month.
One defendant facing domestic terrorism charges is accused of occupying a tree house and refusing to come down, resulting in a “12 hour standoff with police,” according to a warrant.
“They used to call that a sit-in protest,” Filipovits said. “Now it’s terrorism.”
Shortly before the public addresses began on Monday morning, police launched another multi-jurisdictional raid in Weelaunee, also known as the South River Forest, where the city plans to construct its ‘Cop City’ training facility.
Images from the operation show heavily armed police arriving in armored personnel carriers, equipped with rifles and other weapons. The last raid in the South River Forest, on January 18, resulted in Tortuguita’s killing.
Unicorn Riot's coverage on the movement to defend the Atlanta Forest:
- Landing Page: Unicorn Riot Coverage of the Movement to Protect the Atlanta Forest
- No Charges For Georgia Troopers Who Killed Manuel ‘Tortuguita’ Terán (October 6, 2023)
- Over 60 People Indicted on RICO Charges in Atlanta, Allegedly Promoting ‘Anarchist Ideas’ (September 5, 2023)
- Indigenous Climate Activist Victor Puertas Remains in Custody Despite No Indictment (July 26, 2023)
- 6th ‘Stop Cop City’ Week of Action – Unicorn Riot Coverage
- ‘Stop Cop City’ Week of Action Day 8: Youth Rally; Atlanta Police Vehicles Torched (July 2, 2023)
- ‘Stop Cop City’ Week of Action Day 7: Cadence Bank ‘Drop The Loan’ Protest, Panel on Overpolicing (June 30, 2023)
- Clergy Demand Release of Indigenous Climate Activist Victor Puertas from ICE Detention (June 29, 2023)
- ‘Stop Cop City’ Week of Action Day 5: Cadence Bank Loan Protest, ‘March For the Forest’ (June 29, 2023)
- ‘Stop Cop City’ Week of Action Day 4: Rally to Reopen Intrenchment Creek Park (June 27, 2023)
- ‘Stop Cop City’ Week of Action Day 3: Bike Ride/Rally, Signature Gathering, Discussing Movement History (June 26, 2023)
- ‘Stop Cop City’ Week of Action Day 2: Rematriating Mvskoke Land; Hardcore Benefit Show (June 25, 2023)
- ‘Stop Cop City’ Week of Action Begins: Day 1 (June 24, 2023)
- ‘Their Overreach is Sowing the Seeds of Their Undoing’: Forest Defender Speaks from Bartow County Jail (June 20, 2023)
- ‘Cop City’ Protesters Visit Nationwide Insurance (June 14, 2023)
- Atlanta City Council Approves $67 Million in Public Funds for ‘Cop City’ (June 6, 2023)
- Atlanta Solidarity Fund Organizers Granted Bond (June 2, 2023)
- Three Atlanta Activists Arrested, Home Raided Over Bail Fund (May 31, 2023)
- ‘Don’t Forget Us’: Forest Defenders Confront Horrors of Life in DeKalb County Jail (May 30, 2023)
- ‘Cop City’ Panel Member Posted Slurs Online, Archived Tweets Indicate (May 18, 2023)
- ‘We Do Not Need a School for Assassins’: Hours of Public Comment Unanimously Against ‘Cop City’ (May 16, 2023)
- Three Face Felonies for Allegedly Flyering Near Home of One Georgia Trooper Tied to Killing of Forest Defender (May 8, 2023)
- One Granted Bond, Two Denied Pretrial Release: Forest Defenders Appear for Preliminary Hearings (May 4, 2023)
- No Gunpowder Residue Found on Manuel ‘Tortuguita’ Terán According to DeKalb County Autopsy (April 21, 2023)
- Eight Remain in Jail from March 5 Weelaunee Forest Raid, 15 Released (March 24, 2023)
- Behind the #StopCopCity Domestic Terrorism Warrants (March 21, 2023)
- An Historic Direct Action in a Forest Outside Atlanta (March 18, 2023)
- Manuel ‘Tortuguita’ Terán’s Independent Autopsy Report Released at Press Conference (March 13, 2023)
- Police Raid Atlanta Forest After ‘Cop City’ Opponents Overrun Security Post (March 5, 2023)
- ‘Stop Cop City’ Week of Action Begins in Atlanta (March 4, 2023)
- ‘Tortuguita Vive’: A No-Compromise Movement Responds to Police Killing a Forest Defender (February 27, 2023)
- Atlanta Activists Say Prosecutors Plan to Indict them on RICO Charges (February 25, 2023)
- ‘Community’ Committee Cheers Police Violence as Authorities Repress Resistance to ‘Cop City’ (February 24, 2023)
- Supporters of ‘Cop City’ Opponents Rally in Philly (February 24, 2023)
- Minneapolis March Connects Roof Depot Demolition Resistance to the Atlanta Forest (February 21, 2023)
- Atlanta PD Releases Bodycam Footage from Deadly Jan. 18 Forest Raid (February 8, 2023)
- Manuel ‘Tortuguita’ Terán’s Family Seeks Transparency in Police Killing (February 7, 2023)
- City of Atlanta and DeKalb County Announce ‘Agreement’ Amid Growing Opposition to Cop City (January 31, 2023)
- Marches and Vigils Across the US Respond to the Police Killing of Forest Defender Tort (January 22, 2023)
- Protester Shot and Killed by Officers During Raid on Atlanta Forest (January 18, 2023)
- Blackhall Intensifies Destruction of Weelaunee People’s Park in Atlanta Forest (January 16, 2023)
- SWAT Teams Attack Atlanta Forest Encampments, Activists Charged with ‘Terrorism’ (December 18, 2022)
- [Mini Doc] Defending the Atlanta Forest: Behind the Movement to Stop Cop City (Oct. 9, 2022)
- “Cop City” General Contractors’ Offices Attacked (May 19, 2022)
- Police Raid Atlanta Forest Occupation (May 18, 2022)
- Atlanta Fights to Save Its Forest (May 14, 2022)