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Officials in Georgia killed an activist who was reportedly shot first. But a lack of video footage fueled the controversy surrounding the death.
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In January, Georgian authorities attempted to evict protesters from forested properties near Atlanta to make way for a $90 million projectPolice and Fire Brigade Training CenterThere were clashes with a group of activists who derided the project as a "police city", sparking a barrage of gunfire.
A state police officer was injured and a 26-year-old environmental activist, Manuel Esteban Paez Terán, was killed by police. Months later, shooting still under investigation, activist's friends and relatives disputeNo publicTerán shot first and wounded the soldier.
Investigators recently provided evidence of the incident to a special prosecutor, saying police and other members of law enforcement were close to the shootingNot wearing a body cameraThe lack of direct video evidence has raised questions about what happened, leading to calls for more police departments to keep recording their movements.
“I don’t know why they didn’t use the cameras,” said Belkis Terán, the activist’s mother, who called for an investigation into her child’s death independent of Georgian authorities. "I don't trust them," she said.
Relatively rare a decade ago, body cameras worn by police officers have become more common during police operationsdeadly police shooting 2014Michael Brown, 18, of Ferguson, Missouri. In some cases, police forces have begun using them as a result of federal civil rights investigations. Over the past decade, they have become an essential tool for police investigations and holding law enforcement accountable for misconduct.
"The level of evidence you introduce can lead to better outcomes," said Volkan Topalli, a professor of criminology at Georgia State University who contributed aResearch findings that show thatCompared with police departments that don't use cameras, they receive fewer complaints from the public and investigators solve more cases.
A dramatic example of the camera effect came less than two weeks before the shooting outside Atlanta in January, when body cameras and other surveillance video captured images of Memphis police officersagainst tire nichols, 29, later died of his injuries. The shooting led to multiple shootings and five officers were charged with murder.
The rapid adoption of body cameras, especially by government agencies in many large U.S. cities, has led to greater public expectations that law enforcement actions will be caught on camera — and greater suspicion when they are not. recent city sheriffsurge the justice department to allow itreleased footage from cameras worn by local officials for federal emergency responders, saying the move was necessary to meet public expectations for transparency.
However, body-worn camera use remains highly variableOnly seven states have enacted requirementsFor them, according to the National Conference of State Legislators.
in Georgia,This was reported by the Association of Chiefs of PoliceNearly 90 percent of the 254 local agencies surveyed in 2021 are using body cameras in some way. But the Georgia State Patrol, which has nearly 800 troops, doesn't regularly equip its officers with them, relying on dashcams instead. Neither did the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, which is part of the deforestation task force investigating Tran's death.
Because most soldiers operate primarily from their vehicles, there are only three Georgia State Patrol units — those at the State Capitol and Jekyll Island tourist destinations, and one motorcycle unit in the greater Atlanta area — according to Courtney Floy De said the agency spokeswoman currently uses body cameras. "Every designated police car has a built-in dashboard camera," she said.
Some other state police forces have the same policy, said John Bagnardi, executive director of the American State Police Association. Although his organization doesn't track body camera usage, he said, "I know some states that prefer dash cams because a lot of their work is done in and around the vehicle."
Democratic lawmakers in Georgia proposed requiring all police officers in the state to have body cameras after the Tran shooting, but the bill did not go to a vote. State Representative Sandra Scott, one of the bill's supporters, said the reason for opposing the bill was a desire to protect police forces from accountability. "We still have officials doing things they shouldn't be doing," she said.
But the Georgia Sheriffs Association, which blocked the proposal, said it opposed requiring authorities to use body cameras without funding them. At approximately $1,000 to acquire per camera, plus maintenance and video storage costs, cost is a common concern for institutions that have not yet adopted them.
Some police critics say body cameras do little to deter wrongdoing. "Police are ready to kill on camera," said Micah Haskind, a policy assistant at the Southern Center for Human Rights, referring to Mr. Nichols' recent death in Memphis.George Floyd in MinneapolisandRayshard Brooks of Atlanta, have been recorded.
Even experts advocating the use of body cameras warn that sometimes the footage can be misleading or lead to different interpretations. “People are divided about policing and will continue to disagree about what the video shows,” Seth W. Stoughton, a law professor at the University of South Carolina and a former police officer, told The New York Times.2016 Video Research.
The January incident outside Atlanta took place in South River Forest in DeKalb County, where the city is located.Plans to build an 85-acre training centeron the land it owns. The project sparked months of fierce protests from activists who want to protect nearly 400 acres of forest and oppose further militarization of policing.
investigators sayForest Clearance Task Force officers tried to order Terán to leave a tent in the forest before the activist shot a police officer, prompting others to return fire. According to the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, gun remnants were found on the activist's hands, and documents show Tran purchased the gun he used to shoot the police officer.
However, the activist's family claims Terán is a pacifist who is non-binary and is known among forest activists as Tortuguita, or little turtle. The family commissioned their own autopsy, which found Terán was shot cross-legged with his hands raised. An autopsy of the family found no trace of bullet remains, nor did an official autopsy by the DeKalb County Coroner. That suggests Terán suffered at least 57 gunshot wounds.
Although investigators said there was no video footage of the shooting, it did. Video clips released by the Atlanta Police Department include distant gunshots and the sound of officers discussing friendly fire, and their officers, all wearing body cameras, are located in various parts of the forest. Activists took note of the exchange, suggesting that soldiers had injured one of them.
In a statement after the video was released, the State Department's office acknowledged that it had "received at least one statement that one of the officers suspected that the soldier was shot and killed by another officer during the firefight." But it added: "Speculation is not evidence. Our investigation does not support this claim."
The bureau last month turned the case over to Special Counsel George Christian, a district attorney for the Northeast Mountain Judicial Circuit in Georgia. In a statement this week, Mr Christian said he was working to determine "whether the use of deadly force was permissible" but had not yet completed a review of the evidence. He did not say when he would make a decision.
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