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Protester of ‘Cop City’ near Atlanta was shot by police at least 57 times, autopsy says  

Wounds were found throughout the body of Manuel Paez Teran, who was hit in the head, torso, hands and legs, the DeKalb County medical examiner said.
Vienna holds a photo of her slain partner, Tortuguita, in Atlanta on Jan. 26, 2023.
Vienna holds a photo of her slain partner, Tortuguita, in Atlanta on Jan. 26.R.J. Rico / AP file

A slain protester who opposed construction of a vast law enforcement training center near Atlanta was shot at least 57 times in a police confrontation, an autopsy revealed Thursday.

The wounds suffered by Manuel Paez Teran, 26, were so extensive that a loose round "fell from the left sleeve of one of the shirts" as coroners were undressing the body for examination, the DeKalb County medical examiner said.

The activist known as “Tortuguita,” whose full name was Manuel Esteban Páez Terán, was "shot multiple times during an altercation with law enforcement officials from different jurisdictions" in January, said the report signed by the chief medical examiner, Dr. Gerald T. Gowitt.

The report, dated March 14, was made widely available to the public only this week.

The proposed Public Safety Training Center, set to include a shooting range and a mock city that will be used for police training, has been dubbed "Cop City" by opponents, and it drew protesters to its future site in a forested area of DeKalb County outside Atlanta.

A multiagency operation to clear out an encampment of protesters was conducted the morning of Jan. 18.

According to the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, officers found Tortuguita in a tent and said they “did not comply” with law enforcement’s commands. Tortuguita is alleged to have shot and wounded a state trooper, and then officers opened fire.  

Relatives and friends have insisted that Tortuguita had their hands raised and was no threat to police.

Tortuguita identified as nonbinary and used they/them pronouns.

“We are devastated to learn that our child, our sweet Manny, was mercilessly gunned down by police and suffered 57 bullet wounds all over their body,” Tortuguita's mother, Belkis Teran, said in a statement.

The family and its representatives said they still have too many unanswered questions.

“We cannot even begin to determine what happened on the morning of January 18 until the GBI releases its investigation,” family attorney Brian Spears said in a statement.

An Atlanta police representative could not immediately be reached for comment Thursday.

A spokesperson for the Georgia Bureau of Investigation said Thursday that state authorities have completed their probe and referred all questions to the prosecutor appointed to the case, Mountain Judicial Circuit DA George Christian.

Christian said Thursday it would be "premature" to discuss any findings of investigators and didn't give a timeline for any decision to seek charges against officers who opened fire.

The report by Gowitt, the medical examiner, took no stance on that issue.

"Since most shootings involving multiple gunshots are dynamic events attempts to place the decedent in any particular position at a specific point in time is fraught with potential inaccuracies," he wrote.

"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."

Gowitt listed Tortuguita's cause of death as "multiple gunshot wounds" and the manner of death as a "homicide." Coroners regularly use the word "homicide" to simply mean a death at the hands of another, not as a criminal law term for wrongdoing.

Tortuguita was deemed to be in good health, with no "pre-existing natural disease," according to the autopsy.

Among the devastating shots was one that "passed through and collapsed the right eye globe and then entered the cranial cavity through the right orbital roof," according to the autopsy report.

"The gunshot wounds involved the head, torso, and the bilateral upper and lower extremities including the hands and right foot," it concluded.

"Collectively, the gunshots resulted in his death and therefore the cause of death is designated as multiple gunshot wounds. However, the gunshot wound to the head would have been fatal by itself."