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Police shot queer environmental activist ’14 times with their hands up’, independent autopsy says

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A photo of queer environmental activist Manuel “Tortuguita” Terán wearing a light orange t-shirt and smiling, with a forest in the background

An independent autopsy has shone light on the killing of Manuel “Tortuguita” Terán, the ‘Stop Copy City’ activist shot dead by police in Georgia. Warning – violence.

Tortuguita, as they were known, was a queer environmental activist. They were killed in South River Forest, near Atlanta on 18 January while demonstrating with other activists against the construction of an 85-acre police training facility nicknamed Cop City.

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Police had said Tortuguita shot Georgia State Patrol trooper in the leg and that officers returned fire in self-defence. Their family dispute this.

The autopsy found that Tortuguita was shot 14 times, including in the face and at close-range, by police officers. The report added that it’s likely Tortuguita was sitting cross-legged, with their hands raised, before they were shot.

The report was released by lawyers for Tortuguita‘s family at a press conference on Monday (13 March).

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“The police went to the forest that morning planning for violence,” Vice News reported lawyer Jeff Filipovits as saying.

“It was a planned operation, yet no one had a body camera when they shot Manuel.”

Another of the family’s lawyers, Brian Spears, said Tortuguita was shot “so many times and by different firearms that the tracks running through the body converge and intersect”.

According to Vice News, Tortuguita’s mother, Belkis Terán, told the press conference that her “heart is destroyed”.

The Georgia Bureau of Investigation (GBI) said in January that no bodycam footage of the killing exists. A video was later released, in February, in which an officer can be heard saying: “You f**ked your own officer up.”

The GBI says the officer was merely speculating, and that its investigation “does not support that statement”.

Tortuguita’s family and lawyers have criticised the GBI for how it released evidence relating to events, as well as for not releasing the government’s autopsy report, and not meeting with the family.

In a statement, the GBI said: |The actions of the GBI to prevent inappropriate release of evidence are solely intended to preserve the integrity of the investigation and to ensure the facts of the incident are not tainted. The GBI investigation still supports our initial assessment.

“All the facts, to include any information brought forward by the family’s attorney, will be assessed along with all other investigative information by the special prosecutor.

“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.”

Tortuguita had spent time in Atlanta working on forest protection, as well as time in Florida where they helped build housing in low-income areas that were devastated by hurricanes.

A queer, non-binary indigenous Venezuelan, they were described as a “dear friend” and a “brave soul” by the Atlanta Press Collective

“They were a trained medic, a loving partner, a dear friend, a brave soul, and so much more,” the outlet said following their death.

“Tortuguita was a very kind person. They were always willing to help and take care of people in need around them, especially the QTBIPOC community. They were always attentive to others’ needs and always offered the best of them.

“In Tort’s name, we continue to fight to protect the forest and stop Cop City with love, rage, and commitment to each other’s safety and wellbeing.”

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