An independent autopsy showed Manuel Teran’s hands were raised when the activist was fatally shot by state troopers in January near the site of the planned public safety training center, attorneys for the family said.
Decatur-based civil rights attorneys Brian Spears and Jeff Filipovits plan to have a Monday morning news conference to discuss the autopsy and a lawsuit the family filed Friday against the city of Atlanta under the Georgia Open Records Act. According to a release, the lawsuit was filed after the city had pledged to continue to produce additional video evidence until the GBI intervened and blocked more videos from being released.
“The GBI’s interference left the family with no choice but to file a lawsuit against the City of Atlanta,” the release states.
According to the release, an autopsy commissioned by the family showed Teran was facing multiple individuals and while getting shot, was able to raise their hands and arms up in front of their body.
“Manuel’s left and right hands show exit wounds in both palms. The autopsy further reveals that Manuel was most probably in a seated position, cross-legged when killed,” according to the release.
According to the GBI, which is investigating the incident, Georgia troopers conducting a Jan. 18 “clearing operation” near the training center site came across Teran and other activists camped in the woods. Authorities have said Teran shot first, “without warning,” wounding a trooper, before several of the injured officer’s colleagues returned fire.
The GBI says it has tied the bullet that struck the trooper to a gun found at the scene, and provided documents showing Teran, 26, had purchased the same gun in Sept. 2020. There is no body camera footage of the shooting. State troopers are generally not equipped with cameras.
“During its investigation, the GBI has selectively released information framing its narrative while actively preventing Manuel’s family from obtaining any information,” says family attorney Jeff Filipovits of the firm Spears & Filipovits, LLC. “The GBI will not even tell us what type of evidence it has. Now, it says that the city of Atlanta cannot release the public records sought by Manuel’s family.”
Teran’s mother, Belkis Teran, spoke during a rally Thursday at the King Center against the construction of the training site. She argued that the funding for the facility should be used toward helping those living on the streets of Atlanta.
“Tortuguita is alive in our hearts,” said Belkis Teran, using her son’s nickname. “My prayer is that the blood of my son will speak in all our hearts. We are going to win.”
According to the release, the GBI conducted an autopsy on Teran’s body, but the agency refuses to release the report to the family or even meet with them. Family attorneys dispute the police narrative, including the claim that Teran shot first.
In a statement released Friday night, the GBI said the DeKalb Medical Examiner’s Office conducted an autopsy on Teran’s body, not the GBI. In the statement, the agency said it continues to investigate the incident and will turn over findings to an appointed prosecutor for review and action.
The civil complaint filed by Spears & Filipovits in Fulton County on behalf of Joel Paez, Teran’s father, alleges the city of Atlanta violated the state’s Open Records Act when APD began to withhold records after the GBI sent a letter to police Chief Darin Schierbaum asking for records to be withheld since they are part of the investigation into Teran’s death.
The family had submitted an open records request to Atlanta police Jan. 26 asking for multiple records — including videos and audio recordings — related to the activities law enforcement agencies performed around the planned training site Jan. 18.
On Jan. 31, APD’s Open Records Unit responded to the request stating they were able to locate some recordings, that it would take approximately three weeks for the agency to process those records and that they would be provided on a rolling production basis. Some videos were released by APD on Feb. 8 and no other video has been released since.
Just days after the videos were published, the GBI sent a letter to Schierbaum. In the Feb. 13 letter, the GBI argues the records “constitute evidence in an ongoing investigation and as such, are exempted from public disclosure by Georgia law.”
“In the interest of justice and to protect the integrity of a current and ongoing investigation, the GBI requests that, in response to requests for records related to (the investigation), the APD withhold those records,” the letter states.
On Feb. 14, the Attorney General’s Office sent a letter to the city of Atlanta’s legal department providing some guidance about the release of the records. Just a day after, APD’s Open Records Unit sent an email to the attorneys representing Teran’s family stating that no more footage will be released at this time per guidance from the GBI and the Attorney General’s Office.
The GBI said the actions to “prevent inappropriate release of evidence” are solely to preserve the integrity of the investigation and to ensure “the facts of the incident are not tainted,” according to a statement.
“The GBI cannot and will not attempt to sway public opinion in this case but will continue to be led by the facts and truth. We understand the extreme emotion that this has caused Teran’s family and will continue to investigate as comprehensively as possible,” the statement reads.
The lawsuit asks the court to rule that the city of Atlanta violated the Open Records Act and must release the requested records.
The body camera footage released by Atlanta police show officers reacting to Teran’s fatal shooting but does not directly show the incident.
“Man,” an 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. Activists who have questioned the official narrative of Teran’s death since the beginning believe those seven words are proof of a long-standing theory: that it was not Teran who shot and wounded a trooper, but a fellow officer.
The GBI released a statement Feb. 9 stating the agency’s investigation did not support the “speculation” made by the unnamed officer in the video and said the agency was committed to “a full, complete, and accurate investigation.”