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Independent autopsy finds ‘Cop City’ protester had hands raised during shooting

Andrew Lichtenstein/Corbis via Getty Images

(ATLANTA) — Attorneys for the family of Manuel Esteban Paez Terán, who was fatally shot by police during a sit-in protest against the upcoming Atlanta Public Safety Training Center, say an independent autopsy report found that Terán’s hands were raised during the fatal shooting.


Terán, who went by “Tortuguita” and used they/them pronouns, was shot and killed by police on Jan. 18 as officers raided campgrounds occupied by environmental demonstrators who had allegedly been camping out for months to protest the development of the forest for the upcoming police training center dubbed “Cop City” by critics.

The training center is set to take up more than 85 acres, with the “remaining portion of the 265-acres property as green space,” according to the center’s website.

Officers claimed that when Terán refused to comply with verbal commands, the protester fired the first shot at a state trooper, who was injured. Other law enforcement officers returned fire, hitting Terán. There is no body footage of the incident, officials say.

The Georgia Bureau of Investigation said a handgun recovered from the scene had been purchased by Terán. The GBI is investigating the incident.

The autopsy, commissioned by Terán’s family, found that Terán was “facing the multiple individuals who were firing their weapons” at Terán “during the entire interval in which the shooting occurred.” It also states, “At some point during the course of being shot, the decedent was able to raise” their hands and arms up in front of their body, with palms facing toward their torso.

The independent autopsy added that it is “impossible to determine” if Terán had been holding a firearm, or not holding a firearm, before or after being shot the multiple times.

Both Terán’s left and right hands show exit wounds in the palms, according to the autopsy.

Terán, who was 23, “was most probably in a seated position, cross-legged, with the left leg partially over the right leg” when they were killed, according to the autopsy.

“Manuel loved the forest — gave them peace. They meditate there,” said Belkis Terán, Manuel Terán’s mother, in a Monday press conference. “The forest connect them with God. I never thought that Manuel could die in a meditation position. My heart is destroyed.”

The family accused the Georgia Bureau of Investigation of withholding information about Terán’s death, including a first autopsy conucted by the Dekalb County Medical Examiner. Terán’s family is suing the city of Atlanta for the release of more documents concerning the case, saying that the GBI is selectively distributing investigative material “to justify Manuel’s death by law enforcement.”

“I want answers for my child homicide,” said Belkis Terán. “I’m asking for answers for my child homicide. I am suffering for my right to this answer and that I have not been given and I deserve. I deserve answers.”

A spokesperson for the city declined ABC News’ request for comment as “it would be inappropriate to comment on any potential pending litigation.”

The GBI told ABC News in a statement that the agency withholds evidence from the public “to preserve the integrity of the investigation.”

“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 agency’s statement read.

It continued, “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.”

The center, which has been the center of unrest and protests for years, will be used for specialized training for both law enforcement and fire department service workers.

Supporters of the center say it will boost morale and improve officer training. Demonstrators argue that the center is further militarizing the police and may lead to more instances of police brutality and violence.

ABC News’ Will McDuffie and Jianna Cousins contributed to this report.

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