No Gunpowder Residue Found on Manuel ‘Tortuguita’ Terán According to DeKalb County Autopsy

DeKalb County, GA — Three months after Georgia State Patrol officers shot Manuel ‘Tortuguita’ Esteban Paez Terán, killing the 26-year-old environmental and human rights advocate, the DeKalb County medical examiner released their autopsy results. In the 34-page report, Dr. Gerald T. Gowitt, the chief medical examiner, wrote that “gunpowder residue is not seen on the hands.”

UPDATE 4/25/23 at 4:30 p.m. Eastern time: The Georgia Bureau of Investigation (GBI) claim they found the “presence of particles characteristic of gunshot primer residue” from the samples they took of Manuel Terán’s hands, but that “it is possible for victims of gunshot wounds, both self-inflicted and non self-inflicted, to have GSR present on their hands.” Among the more than 57 gunshot wounds Terán suffered were entrance and exit wounds on their hands, which could be the cause for gunshot residue.

The report, which was completed on April 11, was provided to the Atlanta Community Press Collective Tuesday morning in response to a records request to the DeKalb County Medical Examiner’s office.

The GBI’s Gun Shot Residue (GSR) report also included the previously withheld names of the Georgia State Patrol troopers who shot Terán — Brylend Myers, Jared Parrish, Jonathan Salcedo, Mark Lamb, Rolaldo Kegel, and Royce Zah. (We provided the names exactly how they’re spelled in the report, although some of the names seem to be misspelled by the GBI.)

The deadly shooting of the climate activist was not Royce Zah’s first instance of extreme violence against protesters critical of police. On May 25, 2022, a woman sued Royce Zah for allegedly shooting her in the face with a plastic bullet during a May 29, 2020 George Floyd protest in Atlanta.

A Gun Shot Residue kit was performed, yet those findings remain undisclosed. Another piece of new information revealed in this autopsy was that Tortuguita’s body had at least 57 gunshot wounds.

The Georgia Bureau of Investigation (GBI) continues to hold onto their investigation findings closely, leaving Terán’s family, loved ones, and the greater ‘Stop Cop City’ movement searching for answers on their own.

On March 13, 2023, Terán’s family held a press conference to release an independent full autopsy of Tortuguita and to discuss the lawsuit the family filed against the City of Atlanta under the Georgia Open Records Act.

At the request of their family, Dr. Kris Sperry conducted the independent autopsy on Tortuguita. Sperry found that when they were shot and killed, Terán’s hands were raised in the air. According to the family’s lawyers, “The autopsy further reveals that Manuel was most probably in a seated position, cross-legged when killed.”

According to the newly released DeKalb County autopsy report however, Dr. Gowitt wrote that “there are too many variables with respect to movement of the decedent and the shooters to draw definitive conclusions concerning [Terán’s] body position.”

Terán was killed on January 18 in the South River Forest. They were dedicating their time to the diverse ‘Stop Cop City’ movement and working to prevent the construction of the Atlanta Police Foundation’s Atlanta Public Safety Training Center. That morning, a multi-jurisdictional, heavily armed team stormed the forest “in an unprecedented crackdown against protesters,” according to Jeff Filipovits, one of the family’s attorneys.

“The police went to the forest that morning planning for violence. You can see it in the City of Atlanta videos. They formed firing squads, multiple officers with weapons drawn. It was a powder keg and the moment there was a lapse in judgements on anyone’s behalf, there would be death.”

Jeff Filipovits, one of Terán’s family’s attorneys during the press conference on March 13, 2023

During the press conference on March 13, Filipovits called into question the GBI’s declaration that there is no body camera footage of the incident: “They did reconnaissance on the scene. It was a planned operation. Yet, no one had a body camera when they shot Manuel, or so we are told.”

Since the moment Terán was killed, law enforcement officers disseminated the story that a Georgia State Patrol Trooper was shot during a forest raid, after which officers returned fire killing Terán. Many news outlets reported exactly what the GBI and other law enforcement agencies were saying about January 18, refering to Terán as a “suspect” and as the person who shot a trooper.

Wingo Smith, another of the family’s attorneys, pointed out at the press conference that the GBI was concerned with maintaining their narrative:

“[GBI] wrote the APD a letter asking it to stop releasing videos and other material related to what happened that morning. Mind you, the GBI, as we’ve already discussed, had no problem releasing selected videos even from the arrest last week on March 5th within 24 hours of those arrests, and had no problem releasing other information about Manuel that they said conformed to the narrative that they were putting forth.”

Wingo Smith, one of Terán’s family’s attorneys during the press conference on March 13, 2023

The findings in the DeKalb County medical examiner’s autopsy seem to be generating more questions than answers.

On Thursday, Liliana Bakhtiari, a member of the Atlanta City Council, published a statement on Twitter in response to the autopsy results calling upon the Department of Justice (DOJ) to get involved.

“The timelines reported by law enforcement had already proven to be contradictory and with this new information from DeKalb’s autopsy report showing no gun shot residue on Tort’s hands but at least 57 individual gunshot wounds, they have proven that their word cannot be trusted.”

Liliana Bakhtiari, Atlanta City Council member

Unicorn Riot spoke with Bakhtiari on March 6 after an Atlanta City Council meeting: “The escalation is troubling. It scares the ever-living crap out of me because I was terrified when the first arrests happened in the forest right before Christmas. And I said to my colleagues, if we do not come together now and get the administration up to the table, someone’s going to die. And that is what happened.”

As questions persist about what happened the morning of January 18, 2023, at least six total forest defenders and people arrested during the South River Music Festival remain in jail with state-level domestic terrorism charges. The number of people charged with Georgia’s domestic terrorism statute is at least 42.

“The larger context of this unprecedented crackdown is the domestic terrorism charges and the use of the state’s force to quell dissent. This should be, this is an alarm. This is terrifying.

Jeff Filipovits, one of Terán’s family’s attorneys during the press conference on March 13, 2023

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