Atlanta lawmakers request DOJ investigation into shooting death of training center protester

Noah Gringi holds a sign at a press conference for Manuel “Tortuguita” Teran in Decatur on Monday, February 6, 2023. Manuel Teran was killed last month near the site of Atlanta’s planned public safety training center. He was shot by police at least 13 times, attorneys for the family said. (Arvin Temkar / arvin.temkar@ajc.com)

Credit: arvin.temkar@ajc.com

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Noah Gringi holds a sign at a press conference for Manuel “Tortuguita” Teran in Decatur on Monday, February 6, 2023. Manuel Teran was killed last month near the site of Atlanta’s planned public safety training center. He was shot by police at least 13 times, attorneys for the family said. (Arvin Temkar / arvin.temkar@ajc.com)

Credit: arvin.temkar@ajc.com

Metro Atlanta lawmakers want the Justice Department to conduct an independent investigation of the fatal police shooting of a protester on the site of the planned public safety training center.

Six Democratic state legislators have asked U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland for an independent investigation after separate autopsies showed conflicting details, fueling further confusion and distrust around what occurred near the site of the proposed complex.

Environmental activist Manuel “Tortugita” Teran was shot and killed by Georgia state troopers on Jan. 18 during what state law enforcement officials called a “clearing operation” of the wooded area of DeKalb County. The Georgia Bureau of Investigation says Teran shot first at the troopers, an account his family disputes.

Teran’s death — and the subsequent questions about the shooting and investigation — have become a rallying point for state Democratic legislators who were previously reluctant to take sides on the uproar over the public safety center and the controversy surrounding his killing.

An autopsy released by the DeKalb County coroner’s office on April 19 determined that “gunpowder residue was not seen” on Teran’s hands — undermining original reports from the GBI that the protester shot at officers. However, the autopsy was not conclusive because gunpowder is not always visible to the naked eye.

Georgia State Patrol officers weren’t wearing body cameras during the operation, casting even more doubt on the official reports.

Just days later, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution obtained a GBI report from the DeKalb County Medical Examiner’s Office. The report produced five days after Teran’s death said that “particles characteristic of gunshot primer residue” were found in samples taken from the hands of the activist.

In the letter dated April 26, Atlanta-area lawmakers said that the conflicting information heightens the need for definitive answers on the events that took place in January.

“We believe it is essential that a credible investigation be conducted that gathers and releases the necessary information to ensure public confidence in the investigatory and law enforcement process,” the letter reads.

The request is signed by the following lawmakers: state Sens. Nabilah Islam, D-Lawrenceville; Jason Esteves, D-Atlanta; and Nan Orrock, D-Atlanta, and state Reps. Ruwa Romman, D-Duluth, Jasmine Clark, D-Lilburn, and Kim Schofield, D-Atlanta.

Atlanta City Council member Liliana Bakhtiari also called for the federal investigation into Teran’s death after DeKalb County released its autopsy that showed Teran suffered more than 50 gunshot wounds.

Esteves told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution that the state lawmakers are hopeful that their request in conjunction with Bakhtiari’s will spur action from the Justice Department.

“At a point where you have different entities within the government saying different things, it’s helpful to have a third party come in and help set the record straight,” he said. “Especially when you have the situation we have here, where it’s being highly scrutinized and some of the findings have been very concerning.”

Read the entire letter here:

Editor’s note: A previous version of this story misstated how the AJC obtained a GBI gunshot residue report. The AJC received the report through the DeKalb County Medical Examiner’s Office.

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