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Second autopsy shows activist raised hands when shot, killed by police

Crime and public safety Decatur DeKalb County Metro ATL Trending

Second autopsy shows activist raised hands when shot, killed by police

Attorneys Jeff Filipovits (left) and Brian Spears (right) along with the Teran family held a press conference on Monday, March 13, on the Decatur Square to release the results of the second autopsy of Manuel Esteban Paez Teran. Photo by Zoe Seiler.

Decatur, GA — A second autopsy showed that an activist’s hands were raised when they were shot and killed by a Georgia State Trooper in January.

Police officers shot and killed Manuel “Tortuguita” Esteban Paez Teran, 26, on Jan. 18 near an 85-acre police/fire training facility located in DeKalb County’s South River Forest. Activists call it “Cop City.” A State Trooper was also shot and wounded. Police allege Teran had a gun and have provided evidence that Teran purchased a gun in 2020.

Teran’s family and their lawyers held a press conference on Monday, March 13, on the Decatur Square to release the results of their independent autopsy.

“You are not going to find the answers that you want in that autopsy. It is not enough for us to work backward from it to figure out what happened. The only people who know what happened in the forest that day are the officers who were present and the GBI who is investigating,” said family attorney Jeff Filipovits of the firm Spears and Filipovits.

The autopsy, commissioned by Manuel’s family, was performed by Dr. Kris Sperry, former chief medical examiner of the Georgia Bureau of Investigation. Sperry did the autopsy on Jan. 31 and the report was released today. The DeKalb County Medical Examiner’s Office conducted the first autopsy, and the report has not been released.

To read the autopsy report, click here.

The autopsy found that Teran faced multiple individuals who were firing weapons at them and, during the course of being shot, was able to raise their hands and arms up and in front of their body, according to a press release.

“At some point during the course of being shot, the decedent was able to raise his hands and arms up and in front of his body, with his palms facing towards his upper body,” the autopsy report states. “It is impossible to determine if the decedent had been holding a firearm, or not holding a firearm, either before he was shot or while he was being shot … multiple times.”

Both Manuel’s left and right hands show exit wounds in both palms. The autopsy further reveals that Manuel was most probably in a seated position, cross-legged when killed, attorney Brian Spears said.

Teran was shot 14 times and sustained gunshot wounds to the head, chest, abdomen, wrist, forearm, feet, legs and hands. In the report, Sperry notes that the gunshot wound to the head “would have been instantaneously incapacitating and unquestionably lethal.”

The wounds to Teran’s chest and lower abdomen would have also been lethal, but not instantaneously incapacitating.

The report also suggests that Teran was in a seated position when they were shot.

“At the time he was shot, the missile entrance and locations, and the missile trajectories through the body, indicate that the decedent was most probably in a seated position, cross-legged, with the left leg partially over the right leg,” the autopsy report states. “Several of the individual bullet wounds passed into his body, traveling downwards, and from front to back; these trajectories are also consistent with the decedent being in a sitting position, on the ground, with the incoming fire having originated from armed individuals who were standing towards the front of the decedent, and relatively close to the decedent. No obvious evidence of close-range firing was found associated with any of the gunshot wounds.”

Most of the gunshot wounds likely came from a handgun, and evidence of shotgun wounds was also identified during the autopsy based on the wound patterns.

“Manuel was shot so many times, and by different firearms, that the tracks of the bullets running through the body converge and intersect. That means that the same parts of [their] body were shot by different officers,” Attorney Spears said. “Manuel was looking death in the face, hands raised when killed.”

He added that the Teran family still doesn’t know what happened in the forest on Jan. 18.

“The second autopsy is a snapshot of what happened, but it is not the whole story,” Spears said. “What we want is simple: GBI, meet with the family and release the investigative report.”

Although the GBI conducted an autopsy on Teran’s body, the agency has not released the report to their family or met with them.

“The GBI has repeatedly declined to meet with us, to talk to us, or to present any evidence to us. In fact, they have also prevented the release of information by the city of Atlanta,” Filipovits said.

There’s no video recording of the incident itself because the State Troopers involved weren’t wearing them. But other members of the task force responsible for removing activists from the site — including Atlanta Police and DeKalb County Police — were wearing body cameras.

In February, Atlanta Police provided a link to the footage, which was being released as it was processed.

“The Atlanta Police Department is releasing body-worn camera footage related to the January 18, 2023 Georgia State Patrol Trooper shooting that occurred near the future site of the City of Atlanta’s Public Safety Training Center,” a spokesperson from APD said.”The footage is from APD officers assigned to the January 18, 2023 clearing detail who were nearby and responded to the shooting at the time it occurred. Videos are being processed and will be posted to the below link on a rolling basis.”

According to the Teran family’s lawyers, the GBI has intervened to block the release of the information. The family deserves answers, attorney Wingo Smith said.

“When the GBI intervened and the city of Atlanta stopped providing the records that they promised to provide, we had no choice but to file a lawsuit to secure those records under the Georgia Open Records Act,” Smith said. “Without truth, there can be no reconciliation. Without truth, there can be no justice. Without truth, this family can find no peace. We ask the APD to release the rest of the recordings in its possession.”

Eight days after the incident, the attorneys started asking for records from different departments about what happened on Jan. 18.

“The Atlanta Police Department did the right thing when they promised to provide those records to the family, including recordings from the morning of Jan. 18, 2023,” Smith said. “Those recordings caught fire.”

“I want answers for my child’s homicide,” added Belkis Teran, Manuel’s mother, during the press conference. “I deserve answers.”

Filipovits also said the family and attorneys are asking the GBI to immediately release all of its information related to the case, “rather than the selective release that we saw in the immediate aftermath of the shooting.”

A protest of the new police training center site in DeKalb County resulted in 35 arrests on March 5 after activists allegedly set fire to construction equipment and attacked police officers. Twenty-three people were charged with domestic terrorism.

“The larger context of this unprecedented crackdown is the domestic terrorism chargers and the use of the state’s force to quell dissent,” Filipovits said. “This is an alarm. This is terrifying. People are sitting in the DeKalb County Jail right now who have no factual basis for the chargers against them, at least none that have been articulated, simply because they have been charged with domestic terrorism.”

The GBI says it is taking all available evidence into account and that its investigation is not yet complete.

“The GBI is aware of media reports published today that made allegations concerning the officer involved shooting that occurred on Jan. 18,” a spokesperson for GBI said  “The GBI did not conduct Manuel Teran’s autopsy.  The autopsy was done by the DeKalb Medical Examiners Office and not the GBI as the reports stated.  The GBI continues to work diligently to protect the integrity of the investigation and will turn our findings over to an appointed prosecutor for review and action.

“The actions of the GBI to prevent the inappropriate release of evidence are solely intended to preserve the integrity of the investigation and to ensure the facts of the incident are not tainted.  The GBI investigation still supports our initial assessment.  All the facts, to include any information brought forward by the family’s attorney, will be assessed along with all other investigative information by the special prosecutor. The GBI cannot and will not attempt to sway public opinion in this case, but will continue to be led by the facts and truth.  We understand the extreme emotion that this has caused Teran’s family and will continue to investigate as comprehensively as possible.”

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