The Georgia Attorney General’s Office is moving to use a slain activist’s journal against dozens of other individuals charged in connection to the movement to “Stop Cop City.”
Prosecutors believe that the journal of Manuel Esteban Paez Terán, a nonbinary activist who was shot nearly 60 times by Georgia State Troopers in January, shows the beliefs of 61 people named in a massive August indictment. Each of the 61 individuals have been indicted on RICO charges, some also face domestic terrorism charges, and others face money laundering charges.
Deputy Attorney General John Fowler wrote in the motion filed on Nov. 15 that Terán was conspiring with the 61 defendants through what prosecutors described as the “Defend the Atlanta Forest criminal enterprise,” according to documents obtained by HuffPost.
Defend the Atlanta Forest is a decentralized movement and slogan connected to the multi-pronged effort to stop the development of a $90 million police training facility dubbed by critics as “Cop City.” The “Stop Cop City” movement believes the Atlanta Police Training Facility will harm the environment, and the safety of the many Black and Brown residents nearby. Terán’s death brought expanded scrutiny to the police training facility.
According to The Guardian, Terán, who went by they/them pronouns and was known as “Tortuguita,” is believed to be the first environmental activist to be killed by police during a protest. An autopsy found that Terán was likely sitting with their hands up and legs crossed when they were struck by an onslaught of gunfire during a confrontation with police at a protest. Police claim that Terán shot at an officer first. There has not been video evidence that shows Terán’s killing, and an independent autopsy did not find gunpowder on Terán’s hands.
Terán’s journal expressed that he believed that revolution only happens through violence. They also claimed that police only react to crime, not prevent it, and that police often engage in harmful activities themselves like domestic violence.
“All cops are bastards because they enforce unjust laws by choice. Individual LEOs (law enforcement officers) may be upstanding and fair people at heart, but their compliance with the judicial system makes them bastards,” Terán wrote in an undated entry. “[All cops are bastards] because they are not meant to protect people, they protect property and property-owning entities.”
They also wrote about the idea that killing law enforcement officers is “okay,” which prosecutors claimed could be linked to the motivations of the other defendants in the August indictment.
“These statements are a glimpse into the mind of a ‘Forest Defender’ and the attitudes kept by Terán and his [their] co-conspirators,” reads the motion. “He writes about the forest and his desire to stop the construction of the training center as well as his [their] contempt and hatred for police.”
However, Terán also talked about working towards a better world where violence isn’t common or necessary. They wrote about being kind to others and focusing on community aid and altruism.
Lyra Foster, an attorney for multiple people in the indictment, told HuffPost that the prosecutors’ attempt to use Terán’s journal against the people in the indictment is proof that they are losing in the court of public opinion.
“Tortuguita obviously isn’t here to be on trial or to be charged with anything,” Foster told HuffPost. “They’re using a dead young person’s journal in order to try and inculpate young activists for two of the most serious crimes [domestic terrorism and RICO] we have on the books for acts of civil disobedience, which the RICO legislative history explicitly excludes.”
“A young person’s meandering thoughts put to writing will never be evidence that proves guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, and is a desperate media stunt, because they are losing in the court of public opinion,” she added.
Attorney General Chris Carr (R) said the people named in the indictment are “militant anarchists” who co-conspired against a police training center set to be built in the Atlanta forest. The movement has been going on since 2021, but the indictment’s accusations date back to 2020 when there was an increase in racial justice protests, and tensions with police and protestors.
The indictment has been dubbed anti-democratic and a tool of suppression by opponents.
The attorney general’s office did not provide HuffPost with a comment.