Manuel Esteban Teran was an activist who was shot and killed by authorities in South River Forest on January 18, 2023, after being accused of shooting a Georgia state trooper at the site of the future Atlanta Public Safety Training Center.
“The man who died in yesterday’s officer involved shooting has been identified as Manuel Esteban Paez Teran, 26,” the Georgia Bureau of Investigation confirmed in a January 20, 2023, news release.
In a press release, The Georgia Bureau of Investigation accused Teran of shooting the state trooper first and not complying with verbal commands.
Activists call the new training center site “Cop City” and have raised environmental concerns and/or oppose investments in policing, according to Atlanta Magazine. Some have “spent the past year-plus occupying the forest, living in trees and on the ground,” according to Atlanta Magazine.
In a news release, an activist group called Defend the Atlanta Forest, which Teran belonged to, accused the police of having “murdered a forest defender.”
“Police have consistently escalated violent tactics on peaceful people who were sitting in trees or walking through the public park,” the group wrote in a press release, saying that activists and community members “have been demanding that officers stop bringing weapons into the forest.”
According to Atlanta Magazine, in September 2021, the Atlanta City Council approved leasing the land for a “mock village” for police training, “complete with a ‘hotel/nightclub’ and a ‘convenience store.'” According to the article, supporters say the multi-million dollar center will better train police and firefighters, whose training facilities are currently “substandard.”
Protests and riots have erupted around the country after Teran’s death.
Here’s what you need to know:
1. Authorities Say Manuel Esteban Paez Teran Was ‘Inside a Tent in the Woods’ When They First Approached Him But Refused Commands & Then Shot the Trooper
In a news release, the Georgia Bureau of Investigation wrote that there is “an ongoing effort to ensure that the site of the future City of Atlanta Public Safety Training Center is safe and secure.” As a result, the GBI, along with other law enforcement partners, “conducted an operation to identify people who are trespassing and committing other crimes on the property,” the press release says.
At about 9 a.m. on January 18, 2023, as law enforcement was moving through the property, “officers located a man inside a tent in the woods. Officers gave verbal commands to the man who did not comply and shot a Georgia State Patrol Trooper,” the GBI’s press release says.
“Other law enforcement officers returned fire, hitting the man. Law enforcement evacuated the Trooper to a safe area. The man died on scene. The injured Georgia State Patrol Trooper was taken to a local hospital where he underwent surgery,” the release says.
“A handgun and shell casings were located at the scene. The GBI is working the officer involved shooting and the investigation is still active and ongoing,” the GBI said in the release. “The identification of the man who died is pending next of kin notification.”
According to the release, “During the planned operation, several people were arrested and taken to the DeKalb County Jail.”
The GBI added:
This joint investigation is active and ongoing. Anyone with information is encouraged to contact local law enforcement or the GBI at 1-800-597-TIPS. Anonymous tips can also be submitted online at https://gbi.georgia.gov/submit-tips-online, or by downloading the See Something, Send Something mobile app.
Once the investigation is complete, the case file will be given to the Georgia Attorney General’s Office & DeKalb County District Attorney’s Office who are jointly prosecuting this case.
Members of this joint task force include the GBI, Atlanta Police Department, Georgia Attorney General’s Office, DeKalb County District Attorney’s Office, Georgia State Patrol, FBI, DeKalb County Police Department, Department of Natural Resources, and the Georgia Emergency Management Agency (GEMA).
In a news conference, GBI Director Michael Register said authorities have been dealing with “growing criminal behavior and terroristic acts” by individuals and groups.
He said people are disguising their activities as protests. Register said authorities “embrace a citizen’s right to protest” but “law enforcement can’t stand by while serious criminal acts are being committed.”
He said crimes committed include arsons, physical attacks, intimidating citizens, booby traps, and use of explosives. “This morning the GBI conducted a planned clearing operation to remove individuals” illegally in the area, Register said. If law enforcement makes contact with a person, they are asked to leave property, he said, adding that if they are compliant, they are released.
As law enforcement was moving through the area, “an individual without warning shot a Georgia state trooper,” Register said in the news conference. “An individual confronted law enforcement.”
“The individual who fired on law enforcement” was killed in an “exchange of gunfire,” he said in the news conference.
The trooper was out of surgery and out of stable condition after being shot in the abdomen area, authorities said in the news conference.
2. Authorities Released a Photo of a Handgun They Say Was in Manuel Esteban Paez Teran’s Possession That Matches the Trooper’s Wound, But Activists Question the Official Account
The Georgia Bureau of Investigation wrote in a press release that the agency was releasing a photo of the handgun they say was in Teran’s possession.
“We are releasing a photo of the handgun that was in Manuel Esteban Paez Teran’s possession when a Georgia State Patrol trooper was shot on January 18 at the site of the future Atlanta Public Safety Training Center,” they wrote.
“The handgun is described as a Smith & Wesson M&P Shield 9mm. Forensic ballistic analysis has confirmed that the projectile recovered from the trooper’s wound matches Teran’s handgun. Other preliminary information released in this case is consistent with the investigation so far.”
Activist groups question the official account.
“The police and local news are working together to control the flow of information, leaving us with vague news reports that suggest the officer fired at the civilian in self-defense,” said the Atlanta Community Press Collective in a statement. “We know they will say and do anything to prevent an Atlanta officer from being viewed as another Derek Chauvin, including withholding, distorting, or deleting evidence.”
According to Truthout.org, “Sited on land formerly occupied by a notorious prison farm and called Weelaunee Forest by original Indigenous residents and activists today, opponents say the Atlanta Public Safety Training Center would train police in militarized tactics used to repress social movements and communities of color.”
3. Activists Say Manuel Esteban Paez Teran Built Housing in Hurricane-Devastated Communities & Was ‘Defending the Forest From Destruction’
The Defend the Atlanta Forest group has posted numerous tributes to Teran on Facebook.
“We are devastated by the loss of our friend who was killed by the police. Tortuguita was a kind, passionate, and loving person, cherished by their community,” the group wrote, using a gender-neutral pronoun for Teran. The group continued:
They spent their time between Atlanta, defending the forest from destruction and coordinating mutual aid for the movement, and Florida where they helped build housing in low-income communities hit hardest by the hurricane. They were a trained medic, a loving partner, a dear friend, a brave soul, and so much more. In Tort’s name we continue to fight to protest the forest and stop cop city with love, rage, and a commitment to each other’s safety and well-being.
The Atlanta Community Press Collective has posted tributes to Teran on its Twitter page.
“Rest in power, Tortuguita, ❤️” they wrote. “The fight to #StopCopCity will grow and spread in your honor.”
Unicorn Riot wrote on Twitter, “On Jan. 21, 100s of protestors gathered in downtown Atlanta to remember Manuel ‘Tortuguita’ Teran, who was killed by police on Jan. 18. Teran died in a tree-sit to stop ‘Cop City’, a proposed police training center project slated to demolish Atlanta’s largest forest.”
4. Authorities Said They Removed Approximately 25 Campsites & Arrested 7 People
“During the multi-agency operation at the site of the future Atlanta Public Safety Training Center that began on January 18, 2023, approximately 25 campsites were located and removed,” the GBI wrote in its press release.
“Additionally, mortar style fireworks, multiple edged weapons, pellet rifles, gas masks, and a blow torch were recovered. There were three people who were contacted who provided their names to authorities and were free to go.”
The following people “were arrested and charged with domestic terrorism and criminal trespass, with additional charges pending,” according to the GBI:
Geoffrey Parsons, age 20, of Maryland
Spencer Bernard Liberto, age 29, of Pennsylvania
Matthew Ernest Macar, age 30, of Pennsylvania
Timothy Murphy, age 25, of Maine
Christopher Reynolds, age 31, of Ohio
Teresa Shen, age 31, of New York
Sarah Wasilewski, age 35, of Pennsylvania
5. Manuel Esteban Paez Teran Was Remembered by Activists as Being Among the ‘Warriors for the Forest’
According to The Cut, Teran was a member of “Defend the Atlanta Forest,” described as an “activist group.”
The group’s website says, “We call on all people of good conscience to stand in solidarity with the movement to stop Cop City and defend the Weelaunee Forest in Atlanta.”
They added in a Facebook post, “Tortuguita was a very kind person. They were always willing to help and take care people in need around them, especially the qtbipoc community. They were always attentive to others needs and offer always the best of them. A truly warriors for the forest and the people! I miss them so much.”
It describes itself as “an autonomous movement for the future of South Atlanta.” The website writes:
The Atlanta Police Department seeks to turn 300 acres of forest into a tactical training compound featuring a mock city. This project was announced to the shock of community members who had been given no opportunity to weigh in on the proposal. The entire process has been shadier than the forest itself.
The website continues:
We have the highest percentage of tree canopy of any major metropolitan area in America. Our canopy is the main factor in ensuring Atlanta’s resiliency in the face of climate change. The forest in Southeast Atlanta is home to wetlands that filter rainwater and prevent flooding. It is also one of the last breeding grounds for many amphibians in the region, as well as an important migration site for wading birds.
The history of this particular land is deeply scarred. In the 1800s shortly after the land was stolen from Muscogee Creek peoples, it was used as a plantation. In the early 1900s, a prison farm was opened where inmates were forced to perform unpaid agricultural labor, marking the rebranding of slavery into for profit prison labor. The Atlanta Police Department currently uses this hallowed ground as a firing range.