No charges will be filed in shooting of Atlanta training center protester

The handgun the GBI said was in Manuel Teran’s possession is described as a Smith & Wesson M&P Shield 9mm.

Credit: GBI

Credit: GBI

The handgun the GBI said was in Manuel Teran’s possession is described as a Smith & Wesson M&P Shield 9mm.

No criminal charges will be filed against the Georgia State Patrol troopers involved in the fatal shooting of a protester at the site of Atlanta’s planned public safety training center, a district attorney said Friday.

Manuel Teran, 26, was killed in January during a “clearing operation” on the wooded property in southern DeKalb after first firing shots at troopers, according to investigators.

“The use of lethal (deadly) force by the Georgia State Patrol was objectively reasonable under the circumstances of this case,” George Christian, DA pro tempore for the Stone Mountain Judicial Circuit, said in a statement. “No criminal charges will be brought against the Georgia State Patrol Troopers involved in the shooting of Manual Paez Teran.”

Teran’s family wants the state to release all evidence to allow an independent investigation; Christian said those records won’t be released until the case has been closed.

“If there is nothing to hide, then show us the evidence,” attorney Jeff Filipovits, who represents the family, said in a statement. “We were told that once the DA’s report was released, the GBI would release all of the underlying evidence. But now, the District Attorney has stated that his office will not produce the underlying evidence.”

Teran’s mother, Belkis Teran, also released a statement.

“We have waited eight months for the truth,” she said. “We are in pain. We want to hear the interviews. We want our experts to review the lab tests. We want our questions answered. This report does not answer our questions. How long must we wait?”

On the morning of Jan. 18, troopers began clearing the forest when they encountered dozens of tents, one of which belonged to Teran, according to investigators. Teran was inside and briefly spoke to officers but refused to leave.

“No, I want you to leave,” Teran said, according to a 31-page report released by Christian.

Troopers then fired pepper balls inside the enclosure in an attempt to drive Teran out and make an arrest for criminal trespassing. Teran fired four shots from the tent, seriously injuring a trooper. Other troopers then returned fire, the GBI has said.

Six troopers were involved in the incident and all were dressed in green with patches indicating “police” and “SWAT” affiliation, according to investigators. The troopers told investigators they feared for their lives, as well as those of their colleagues, the report states. They also feared Teran had released an improvised explosive device or IED.

When a trooper was hit by gunfire, he dropped to a knee and fired back, the report states. He tried to then walk away from the area, but then collapsed and was treated at the scene before being taken to Grady Memorial Hospital. The injured trooper underwent emergency surgery to remove a bullet lodged near his spine, according to investigators.

After the shootings, the GBI also said that ballistics testing showed the gun found at the scene of Teran’s death fired the bullet that struck the trooper. A GBI spokeswoman said the agency confirmed via transaction records that Teran legally purchased the Smith & Wesson in question in September 2020.

Manuel Teran's mother Belkis Teran, from left, brother Daniel Paez, brother Pedro Santema and father Joel Paez listen to their attorney speak during a press conference on March 13. (Ben Gray for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

Credit: Ben Gray

icon to expand image

Credit: Ben Gray

“Manny was a kind person who helped anyone who needed it. He was a pacifist,” Teran’s mother said at the time. “They say he shot a police officer. I do not believe it. I do not understand why they will not even privately explain to us what happened to our child.”

There is no body camera footage of the shooting, as state troopers are generally not equipped with cameras. Several other agencies were involved in the operation, including the Atlanta Police Department, which released a set of four videos in February.

An autopsy commissioned by the family showed Teran’s hands were raised at the time of the shooting, the family’s attorney said. The DeKalb County Medical Examiner’s Office also conducted an autopsy, but no information has been released indicating Teran was attempting to surrender.

In April, that report was released and stated that gunshot residue was “not seen” on Teran’s hands. But “particles characteristic of gunshot primer residue” were found in samples taken from the hands, according to a GBI report. Gunshot residue is not always visible to the naked eye, according to experts.

Tehran’s body had at least 57 gunshot wounds, which included entrance and exit wounds, as well as re-entry and re-exit, the DeKalb ME report stated.

In June, DeKalb County District Attorney Sherry Boston announced that she had withdrawn her office from prosecuting cases relating to the public safety training center. Christian, who serves as the DA in the north Georgia counties of Habersham, Rabun and Stephens, was assigned to the investigation.

On Friday, activists opposed to the training center released a statement blasting the decision and saying Teran’s “memory and the memories of all those stolen by police killings demand that we all continue the collective struggle for a future without state violence.”