The Atlanta Police Department began releasing body camera footage Wednesday night from officers reacting to last month’s fatal shooting near the site of the city’s planned public safety training center.
The Jan. 18 shooting that left activist Manuel “Tortuguita” Teran dead involved only Georgia state troopers, who are generally not equipped with cameras. A trooper was wounded in the exchange.
The newly released footage does not directly show the incident.
But activists quickly seized on one brief line uttered by an APD officer responding to the aftermath.
“Man,” the unnamed officer wearing the camera says before uttering an expletive. “You (messed) your own officer up.”
The officer was not directly at the shooting scene and the precise context for the comment was unclear. An Atlanta police spokesman did not immediately respond to requests for further comment.
Activists who have questioned the official narrative of Teran’s death since the beginning, though, were already touting those seven words as proof of a long-standing theory: that it was not Teran who shot and wounded a trooper, but one of his fellow officers.
“Seems completely damning,” local organizer Micah Herskind tweeted. Many other social media posts were more explicit.
The GBI has previously provided documents that they say show Teran legally purchased a firearm found at the scene of the shooting. They’ve also said the bullet that wounded the trooper, whose name has not been released, was tied to the same weapon via ballistics testing.
No documentation of that testing has been released.
GBI spokeswoman Nelly Miles said late Wednesday that the agency stands behind its original statements regarding the case.
“Our original assessment that we provided is based on the facts that have been uncovered in the investigation,” she wrote in an email to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “It’s not based on a story that has been fabricated online and repeated in the media.”
The GBI’s investigation into the incident is ongoing. But since the shooting, a growing chorus of left-wing activists, along with more mainstream organizations and politicians, have called for an independent probe.
Those calls escalated earlier this week after Teran’s family, flanked by attorneys, held a press conference to announce an independent autopsy showed Teran had been shot 13 times. In the absence of any body camera video directly showing the incident, they called for the release of footage from officers participating in the multijurisdictional “clearing operation.”
APD began doing that Wednesday night, posting a link to videos it said showed footage “from APD officers assigned to the ... detail who were nearby and responded to the shooting at the time it occurred.”
An APD spokesman said videos were being uploaded “on a rolling basis.” As of about 7:30 p.m., a total of four videos had been posted here.
Reporters with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution continue reviewing the footage.
The roughly 40-minute video that included the instantly-seized-upon words started by showing a group of Atlanta police officers walking through the southern DeKalb County woods and removing tents.
“Think they’ll come back now?” one officer asks a colleague as he slashes an empty tent with a knife.
A second officer also appeared to confiscate a backpack and other belongings found inside.
As they continue scouring the woods, an officer can be heard complaining to his colleagues about slipping in the mud. His jovial tone turned to concern when a barrage of gunfire echoed through the forest.
In the time-stamped body camera footage, the first four shots can be heard at 9:01 a.m. There is a brief pause before what sounds like multiple officers firing dozens of rounds in return.
“Is this target practice?” the officer asks as the group takes cover behind several trees. (There is an existing Atlanta police firing range where the new $90-million facility is planned.)
Several people can be heard shouting through the woods, though it’s unclear what they said.
The APD officers are told to stop moving and take cover, followed by what sounds like a command to make sure their body cameras are switched on.
The group then moves toward the direction of the gunshots.
As they slowly continue their approach and stop near a green tent, one officer can be heard saying “nah, it sounded like suppressed gunfire.”
The officer wearing the camera snorts. Another says, “yeah it did.”
On a radio, someone says “what agency is that?”
“GSP SWAT,” is the response.
It’s then that the camera-wearing officer is heard saying “man, you (messed) your own officer up.”
His group of officers then stands with their guns aimed at the nearby tent as what sounds like some kind of off-road vehicle approaches.
”We just need to hold until we can get them out. Get the officer out first,” an officer can be heard saying. “Don’t want to cause another incident.”
They move in on the tent, threatening to release a K-9 before shooting non-lethal rounds — and then find the tent to be unoccupied.