A Georgia state trooper fired pepper balls inside activist Manuel Paez Teran’s tent on the site of the proposed public safety training facility before gunfire erupted — wounding a trooper and killing Teran.
That description is in multiple Georgia Department of Public Safety use of force incident reports related to the Jan. 18 shooting that were released to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution on Friday through an open records request. The reports represent the most complete account of the deadly shooting provided by law enforcement to date.
The reports allege Teran was found inside a tent and briefly spoke to officers, refusing to leave before the pepper balls were fired inside the enclosure. The reports says Teran fired the first gunshot, and six officers returned fire.
One of the reports was written by a corporal over the special operations group within the Georgia Department of Public Safety. The names of all officers involved have been redacted.
Weeks before Jan. 18, the corporal noted he had been informed by his supervisors that the Department of Public Safety’s SWAT Team was requested to assist the GBI , along with other local law enforcement agencies, in the clearing of the property of protesters who were “unlawfully occupying the land,” according to the corporal’s report. Days before going into the forest, the corporal said he received the GBI’s tactical operations plan that outlined a proposed method of operation for clearing the site.
“Upon review of the document, I observed several pieces of information that stood out to me. To begin, a primary objective of the operation was to detect and arrest domestic terrorists that were currently criminal trespassing on the land while committing other crimes on the property,” the corporal wrote.
According to the corporal’s report, the GBI’s investigation had identified approximately 30 domestic terrorists still actively on the property who were “disrupting and intimidating contractors” working on the site.
“All the provided information leading up to January 18th, 2023, lead me to believe that the protestors/domestic terrorists unlawfully occupying the land were not only extremely dangerous and violent in general, but unusually hostile toward government employees, especially law enforcement officers,” the corporal wrote in the report.
Another of the reports was written by a sergeant on the state SWAT Team and served as second to the SWAT Commander. According to the sergeant’s report, the GBI was the lead investigating agency, had overall operational control and briefed all personnel the operational strategy of the operation on Jan. 18.
According to the corporal’s report, troopers were clearing the forest that morning when they encountered dozens of tents set up in no particular fashion.
As officers began clearing the tents and looking for protesters, a sergeant told him there was a person inside a tent that refused to leave. He asked for an officer equipped with pepper balls to force the person out of the tent.
The person inside the tent would later be identified as Teran, who is quoted in the report as telling officers: “No I want you to leave”.
“The way the suspect made his statement was a point of interest to me. It was very confident in manner, and it was immediately apparent to me that he had no intentions of cooperating,” the corporal wrote in the report.
Credit: John Spink/AJC
Credit: John Spink/AJC
Credit: JOHN SPINK / AJC
Credit: JOHN SPINK / AJC
Teran’s family has questioned the official accounts of the shooting — particularly the allegation that Teran owned a handgun and the bullet that wounded the officer was fired from it.
The report says the corporal warned Teran that he was going to shoot chemical agents into the tent. According to the report, Terán was going to be arrested for criminal trespassing after refusing to comply.
After being told of the charge by the sergeant on the scene, Teran unzipped a small section of the tent but did not open the tent door completely or unzip the mosquito net on the interior of the tent, the report says. Teran looked briefly at each person standing in front of the tent but the corporal could not see Teran’s entire face, according to the report.
Teran began to zip up the front of the tent when the corporal discharged pepper balls into the tent.
“I discharged a volley of pepper balls into the tent through the opening of the tent door through the mosquito net. I did not count how many rounds I discharged but believe it to be around five rounds,” the corporal wrote in the report. “I wanted to contaminate the rear of the tent with the chemical agent carried by the pepper ball to encourage the subject to exit the front of the tent peacefully without causing him any unnecessary discomfort by striking him with the pepper ball rounds.”
According to the report, gunfire erupted from inside the tent toward the three troopers moments after the last volley of pepper balls.
“I knew the suspect in the tent was shooting at us because I could hear the gun shots coming from inside of the tent. I could see the front of the tent door flapping as the bullets ripped through it and I could hear bullets striking the vegetation surrounding me,” the corporal wrote in the report.
The corporal said Teran was steadily shooting at them and didn’t know how many rounds were fired.
The corporal said he then drew his pistol and began shooting at Teran inside the tent.
“I continue to fire my weapon until it was readily apparent to me that the suspect within the tent was no longer trying to murder us,” the corporal wrote.
A sergeant on the scene wrote in a second report that he fired at the tent with his rifle. The report says Terán had a Smith and Wesson semi-automatic handgun, and that six officers returned fire.
“Inside, Teran was located suffering from multiple gunshot wounds and was unquestionably deceased from his wounds. A handgun was observed inside the tent near Teran’s body,” the sergeant wrote in his report.
In a statement, Teran’s family said the reports released by the Department of Public Safety show the GBI “conceived of, planned and led the operation” that resulted in Teran’s death and argues the narratives in the incident reports were drafted “weeks or, in some cases, moths after the incident.” The corporal’s report narrative was submitted on Feb. 13, while the sergeant’s report narrative was submitted on Feb. 24.
Other reports were submitted on March 17. The family argues officers had the opportunity to review publicly available video and press releases by the GBI before submitting their reports.
“The family urges the GBI to release all witness interviews taken in the immediate aftermath of the shooting and all forensic evidence it has obtained,” the family said in a statement. “These incident reports reveal that officers were fed a steady supply of hearsay and vague generalities about ‘domestic terrorists’ before entering the forest. It is clear that all law enforcement regarded any person in the forest as guilty of being a domestic terrorist.”
The family is asking the GBI to explain steps taken to preserve the investigation into its own operation and for all law enforcement agencies to produce evidence that show protesters who oppose the planned training site as domestic terrorists.
A private autopsy commissioned by Teran’s family showed the activist had been shot at least 14 times in multiple areas of the body. The autopsy found the 26-year-old suffered wounds from both handguns and a shotgun, with one lethally wound to the head likely occurring at the end of the volley, according to the report completed by Dr. Kris L. Sperry, the GBI’s former chief medical examiner.
The use of force report makes no mention of any troopers firing a shotgun at Teran.
The DeKalb County autopsy report has not been released.
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