Reps. Cori Bush and Rashida Tlaib co-wrote a column about the “cop city” protests in Atlanta which appeared yesterday in the Nation. The headline is “Cop City and the Silencing of Dissent” but the more eye-opening claim is referenced in the sub-head: “Officials in Georgia are covering up the police killing of a protester and waging a chilling assault on the right to protest.” Here’s how the piece opens:
What started out as a local fight over a $90 million, 85-acre militarized police base in the Weelaunee Forest near Atlanta, known as “Cop City,” has turned into one of the most extreme cases of government overreach, oppression, and violence in recent years. City and state officials are covering up the police killing of a protester and waging a chilling assault on the right to protest that risks setting a dangerous precedent.
In January, heavily militarized Georgia State Patrol officers shot and killed Manuel “Tortuguita” Terán, a nonviolent activist protesting in the local forest that Cop City would destroy, in a hail of 57 bullets. In the immediate aftermath of their killing, law enforcement claimed that Tortuguita possessed a firearm and fired first. This was a lie. Body camera footage suggests one officer shot another, and autopsies showed Tortuguita had their arms raised and no gunpowder residue on their hands when they were killed.
The authors avoid using the word “murder” but that’s what they are describing. In their version, the protester was unarmed, shot no one and had his hands up in surrender when he was shot by police.
This is a very misleading and one-sided presentation of the facts in this case. It is true that “Manuel Teran aka Tortuguita was an activist camping in the forest and in January he was shot and killed by police. It’s also true that police immediately claimed he fired at them first. And that’s where Bush and Tlaib claim the police are lying.
Here’s what we know. Police from various agencies were clearing the forest when a Georgia State Trooper was shot. Police then shot Teran, killing him. The officer who was shot has never been named but he was taken to a hospital where he underwent emergency surgery.
It is true that some time later authorities released body camera footage of police officers who heard the shots at a distance and wondered aloud if the shooting had been a case of friendly fire. I wrote about the bodycam video here and all of the clips are still up. After hearing that an officer had been shot, one officer asks “They shoot their own man?” Another says, “We don’t know whether he got shot by a deputy.”
But it needs to be pointed out that none of the officers speaking were at the scene of the shooting. None of them know what happened or have received any information about it beyond the radio call saying an officer was hit. The officers who were at the scene didn’t have body cameras because state troopers don’t wear them.
Reps. Bush and Tlaib leave out a few more salient points. For instance, there was a gun found at the scene and that gun was a match for the bullet that hit the trooper.
A newly released photograph of a gun is the weapon state investigators say was used by a protester camped near the so-called “Cop City” training facility site to shoot a Georgia State Patrol trooper on Wednesday. That protester was shot and killed by other officers on a task force assigned to sweep and clear the woods.
The Georgia Bureau of Investigation says 26-year-old Manuel Esteban Paez Teran was the person who pulled the trigger of that gun. Investigators say a forensic ballistic analysis confirms the remains of the bullet pulled from the trooper’s body during surgery on Wednesday afternoon was fired from the Smith & Wesson M&P Shield 9mm recovered at the scene.
So the bullet matches the gun but where did the gun come from? It had been purchased by Manuel Teran years earlier.
Investigators say they received confirmation Monday that the firearm used in the Jan. 18 incident was bought legally in September 2020 by Manuel Esteban Paez Teran.
So at this point if you still want to believe the trooper was hit with friendly fire, you have to believe there is a conspiracy going on that involves all of the troopers at the scene and the crime lab which tied the bullet to the gun and maybe even the FBI who were probably involved tying the gun to Teran.
As for the claim that Teran had his arms raised in surrender at the time he was shot, that claim is also in doubt. The Atlanta Journal Constitution reported back in March on the doctor who performed an autopsy on behalf of the family:
The Teran family autopsy was performed by Dr. Kris L. Sperry, the GBI’s former chief medical examiner who in 2015 retired abruptly after an Atlanta Journal-Constitution investigation found he had claimed hundreds of work hours at the GBI when he actually was working for clients of his forensic-science consulting firm. The AJC found Sperry had taken on more than 500 cases as a paid forensic expert, and that his moonlighting had created conflicts of interest and undermined his scientific and medical judgment.
The AJC investigation of Sperry examined court filings, depositions and trial transcripts from more than five dozen of his private cases. Time after time, lawyers and other adversaries accused Sperry of tailoring conclusions to suit his paying customers…
“At some point during the course of being shot, the decedent was able to raise his hands and arms up and in front of his body, with his palms facing towards his upper body,” the autopsy says…
While the autopsy suggests Teran’s hands were raised, it is not clear when they were raised and how high. The autopsy doesn’t conclude whether Terans hands were raised above the head in a position of surrender or whether the hands were in a lower, defensive position after being shot.
So you have an autopsy performed for the family by a doctor who a) resigned under a cloud and b) was accused of “tailoring conclusions” to suit his customers. And even his report does not say Teran’s hands were raised in surrender. However, Teran’s family and their attorneys did make that claim and it was widely reported that way at the time.
The DeKalb County autopsy, which was performed earlier but released about a month later, concluded “there are too many variables with respect to movement of the decedent and the shooters to draw definitive conclusions concerning Mr. Teran’s body position.” So that’s two autopsy reports both of which say it’s not clear the exact position of his body when he was shot.
Finally, it is true that the county autopsy report said there was no visible gunpowder residue on Teran’s hands. However, the report also stated that a more detailed analysis was underway. That analysis, which was concluded back in April, found that Teran had in fact fired a gun.
According to that autopsy report, no gunpowder residue was seen, but a sample was collected:
“The hands were bagged prior to this examination. The bags are given to the investigative agency. Evidence of parenteral drug abuse in the upper extremities is lacking. The fingernails are closely trimmed and intact. Gunpowder residue is not seen on the hands. A GSR kit is performed,” the report reads in part.
That GSR kit was sent off to the GBI Crime Lab for analysis. The findings were released Tuesday. This report “revealed the presence of particles characteristic of gunshot primer residue.”
Again, unless you believe there is a conspiracy involving Georgia State Troopers, the GBI crime lab and the doctor who performed the county autopsy, then it seems pretty clear Manuel Teran fired his own gun and hit a trooper before he was shot and killed by the other troopers at the scene.
The fact that Reps. Bush and Tlaib left out all of that information and then accused police of covering up what amounts to a murder is pretty amazing. Read their claims again. They aren’t just asking questions about the official story, they are flat out claiming police are involved in a cover up. Shouldn’t they at least present all of the evidence when making such a claim?
The rest of the piece makes the claim that Georgia authorities are part of a dystopian zeitgeist which is simultaneously destroying the environment and further militarizing police. I’d say the reality is just the opposite. What actually happened here is part of a leftist mood in America, one that has turned on and demonized police to the point that even after an officer is shot and hospitalized two officials elected to the US Congress will team up to mislead people about what happened and try to portray the shooter as the victim of the police.