According to police incident reports obtained by the Guardian, a police officer fired pepperball rounds into Manuel Paez Terán's closed tent before an exchange of gunfire killed the environmental activist and injured an officer.
On Jan. 18, armed police killed 26-year-old Paez Terán as they swept through an Atlanta forest to clear activists camping there to prevent construction of Cop City, a $90 million training facility for police and firefighters.
The death of Paez Terán – the first environmental protester to be killed by police in US history – caused international attention and sparked a protest movement against the huge project.
An attorney representing Paez Terán's family, Wingo Smith, learned the news in a brief phone call from Patrick Bailey, the director of the medical examiner's office in DeKalb county. A report on the autopsy should be available within several weeks, Smith said.
As soon as the final report is complete, Bailey will forward it to the Georgia Bureau of Investigation (GBI) and, possibly, to a special prosecutor.
In light of the enormous public interest generated by the Tortuguita case, the news is unexpected. However, given that Paez Terán's family just recently scattered his ashes over the forest he was defending, it remains unclear what progress remains.
In addition to toxicology reports, Bailey said there might also be an "internal review".
With the family members of Paez Terán present, Smith and his colleagues announced their own independent autopsy results on Monday and filed a lawsuit against the city of Atlanta. They are requesting video and audio recordings taken during the raid that led to Paez Terán’s death.
According to the family-ordered autopsy, Paez Terán was sitting cross-legged with their hands in front of their face when hit by a hail of bullets. “Manuel was looking death in the face, hands raised when killed,” civil rights attorney Brian Spears said.
Paez Terán's family has been ignored by city, county, and state agencies involved in the raid in nearly all attempts to gain information, according to the lawsuit and conversations with the Guardian. According to Smith, the medical examiners' office did not respond to a Feb. 7 request for preliminary autopsy findings and a meeting with the family.
“Getting information is tremendously difficult, and it really hurts families,” Smith said.
The city of Atlanta, and America in general, has enabled law enforcement to terrorize and murder innocent citizens exercising their right to protest unjust environments and institutions like Cop City. Manuel Paez Terán’s death at the hands of Atlanta police and their latest actions to evade culpability cannot be justified.