Stone Mountain, GA — A Georgia prosecutor announced Friday, Oct. 6, that six Georgia State Patrol SWAT troopers – Brylend Myers, Jerry Parrish, Jonathan Salcedo, Mark Lamb, Ronaldo Kegel, and Royce Zah – will not face criminal charges in the January 18, 2023 shooting death of Manuel ‘Tortuguita’ Esteban Paez Terán, a nonbinary indigenous Venezuelan climate protester. Terán’s family and fellow activists believe they were murdered that day in the South River Forest near Atlanta, and much of the publicly available evidence from the incident casts doubt on the official narrative.
Stone Mountain Judicial Circuit District Attorney George R. Christian was tasked with the investigation on March 8 by the Prosecuting Attorneys’ Council of Georgia, ostensibly for the purpose of conducting an independent investigation. His statement describes the shooting of Terán, which drew international outrage amid allegations of a cover-up, as “objectively reasonable.” According to autopsies, Terán received over 57 gunshot wounds when they were killed by troopers Myers, Parrish, Salcedo, Lamb, Kegel and Zah.
The Georgia Bureau of Investigation (GBI), which answers to Georgia’s right-wing Attorney General Chris Carr, has always insisted that before being killed, Terán shot a gun at troopers after troopers fired pepper balls into a tent. This claim that was repeated again today by Stone Mountain Judicial Circuit District Attorney George Christian, an outside prosecutor assigned to investigate Terán’s killing, which took place in unincorporated DeKalb County. The 31-page report attached to Christian’s press release outlines the justification for the killing, and relies almost entirely on the claims of the state troopers involved in the killing for establishing its narrative.
When confronted and killed by SWAT troopers, Terán had been sleeping in a public park, during its open hours. Police were sweeping the area in the South River Forest near Atlanta where protesters had been occupying the construction site of the unpopular and legally contested proposed police urban warfare complex nicknamed ‘Cop City’ and officially named the Atlanta Public Safety Training Center. The project is being pushed by the Atlanta Police Foundation, a private nonprofit funded by mega-corporations and seen by its opponents as a vehicle for enabling corruption in Atlanta politics.
Terán’s killing came during a time of escalation from Georgia authorities against protesters who had been occupying the forest set to be destroyed for ‘Cop City’ construction. Starting in December 2022 and during and after the incident involving Terán’s death, tree-sitters and other protesters opposing ‘Cop City’ have been charged with Georgia state-level Domestic Terrorism under a statute that is currently being challenged as unconstitutional.
Claims that ‘Tortuguita’ shot first have been met with suspicion, as what little primary evidence that has been publicly released doesn’t support this narrative. Atlanta Police Department (APD) body camera footage from officers near the shooting shows that APD officers believed the state trooper was shot by friendly fire (“you fucked your own officer up.”) In March, an independent autopsy concluded that the climate protester was shot and killed with their hands raised while sitting in a meditation position.
In April, the DeKalb County Medical examiner wrote that in their examination of Terán’s body, “gunpowder residue is not seen on the hands.” The GBI quickly jumped in to cast doubt on the DeKalb examiner’s report, insisting that Terán’s corpse did in fact contain the “presence of particles characteristic of gunshot primer residue” — while admitting the kind of residue they alleged was found on the body was often present on “victims of gunshot wounds.”
The GBI, which operates under the same umbrella of Georgia’s Department of Public Safety as the Georgia State Patrol troopers who killed Terán, has worked aggressively both to excuse Terán’s shooting and to criminalize the ‘Stop Cop City’ movement of which they were a part.
The GBI, along with Georgia Attorney General Chris Carr (appointed by Governor Brian Kemp), is a key player in the historically unprecedented political repression of the ‘Stop Cop City’ movement via Goergia’s court system – charging music festival attendees with Domestic Terrorism, hitting protesters with felonies for distributing fliers, charging bail fund legal aid workers with money laundering, and most recently indicting 61 protesters on racketeering charges meant for organized crime, often based solely on acts of political speech.
Michael Register, the director of GBI during and after the shooting, resigned from the position in June 2023, a move many speculated was related to the fallout from Teran’s death and subsequent allegations of a cover-up by GBI.
Terán’s family filed a lawsuit against the Atlanta Police Department under the Georgia Open Records Act this March in a bid to uncover more documentation of the killing.
Royce Zah, one of the state troopers involved in killing Terán, is currently being sued in federal court by a woman who alleges he shot her in the face with a plastic bullet during May 2020 George Floyd protests in Atlanta, causing “permanent facial disfigurement.”
Georgia State Patrol has refused to release the disciplinary history of any of the 6 troopers, claiming, among other reasons, that “disclosure… would compromise security against sabotage or criminal or terrorist acts.”
Carr’s Georgia AG office is also conducting its own investigation into the shooting. His zealous role in criminalizing the ‘Stop Cop City’ movement, which has drawn condemnation from groups like Amnesty International and the Center for Constitutional Rights, may cause some to question his agency’s capacity to rule neutrally on the matter.
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)