Details surrounding the deadly encounter near the planned site of Atlanta’s public safety center continued to trickle out Thursday, as a wounded state trooper recovered and left-wing activists both mourned a fallen comrade and questioned the official account of events.
At least seven other people, meanwhile, were arrested and charged with domestic terrorism in connection with Wednesday’s law enforcement operation in the southern DeKalb County woods.
Activists tied to the “Defend the Forest” movement identified the person killed by law enforcement — after allegedly firing at troopers first — as Manuel Teran, aka “Tortuguita.” Online posts described Teran as a “beloved member of the community” who split time between Atlanta and Florida.
“We don’t know what happened yesterday,” a post by the Atlanta Community Press Collective said, “but we know that the police killed them while they were defending the forest,”
The Georgia Bureau of Investigation later confirmed Teran’s identity. They were 26.
The GBI alleges troopers conducting a “clearing operation” in the forested land near the training center site came across Teran in a tent around 9 a.m. According to press statements, law enforcement officers “gave verbal commands” before Teran fired “without warning.”
Multiple officers shot back, killing him.
The GBI said “a handgun and shell casings” were found at the scene.
One trooper was shot in the abdominal area and, as of Wednesday afternoon, was recovering the intensive care unit of a local hospital. He was last listed in stable condition.
The Georgia State Patrol said Thursday it would not identify the wounded trooper, saying doing so would “compromise security against criminal or terroristic acts due to retaliation.”
The anonymous, activist-linked Twitter account @scenesatl was suspended after a post reportedly called for “reciprocal violence to be done to the police and their allies.”
The Atlanta Police Department said it was “aware of the call to violence” and that officers were on high alert but would “continue our work to keep our streets safe for our residents, businesses, and visitors alike.”
The GBI, meanwhile, said they found “mortar style fireworks, multiple edged weapons, pellet rifles, gas masks, and a blow torch” while removing a total of about 25 campsites around the training center property on Wednesday — and also arrested seven people on domestic terrorism charges.
DeKalb County jail logs showed Geoffrey Parsons, 20; Spencer Bernard Liberto, 29; Matthew Macar, 30; Sarah Wasilewski, 35; and Christopher Reynolds, 31, were also charged with aggravated assault on a public safety officer.
Teresa Yue Shen, 31, faces an additional charge of criminal trespass, according to online records. Timothy Murphy, 25, was charged only with domestic terrorism.
All of the suspects were listed as being from out of state: three from Pennsylvania and others from Maine, Maryland, New York and Ohio.
More details about their alleged actions were not immediately available.
The new arrests make at least 13 people accused of domestic terrorism — weighty charges that carry possible sentences of 35 years in prison — in connection with protests against the Atlanta training center and occupation of the proposed site.
Those arrested on such charges last month were each accused of specific actions, like throwing rocks at authorities or trespassing; but the heftier charges were primarily based on their alleged affiliation with the larger “Defend the Forest” movement.
“The GBI and all law enforcement agencies among our partners here embrace a citizen’s right to protest,” GBI Director Mike Register said during a Wednesday afternoon press conference. “But law enforcement can’t stand by while serious criminal acts are being committed that jeopardize the safety of the citizens we’re sworn to protect.”
Credit: Miguel Martinez
Credit: Miguel Martinez
A large crowd, meanwhile, showed up in Atlanta’s Little Five Points neighborhood for a Wednesday night vigil in honor of the person later identified as Teran.
In the misty rain, they laid candles and flowers around a light pole, sang protest songs and chanted anti-police slogans. A large banner read “trees give life, police take it.”
Marlon Kautz of the Atlanta Solidarity Fund, which provides monetary and legal support for arrested protesters, urged the media and others not to accept at face value the police version of Wednesday’s events, and vowed that his organization would “pursue a vigorous legal strategy and an investigation of this killing.”
“I just want to urge people to not allow this repression to give you fear, and to keep doing what you’re doing,” Kautz said.
A note of disclosure
The James M. Cox Foundation, the charitable arm of Cox Enterprises which owns The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, has contributed to the training center fundraising campaign. It is among several Atlanta-based foundations that have contributed.
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