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Georgia law enforcement conducts ‘clearing operation’ as construction begins on ‘Cop City’ facility

<i>Danny Karnik/AP</i><br/>A sprawling $90 million police training facility is set to be built on an unincorporated piece of land in Atlanta and DeKalb County.
Danny Karnik/AP
A sprawling $90 million police training facility is set to be built on an unincorporated piece of land in Atlanta and DeKalb County.

By Devon M. Sayers, Jamiel Lynch and Eric Levenson, CNN

Law enforcement in Georgia carried out a “clearing operation” on Monday at the planned site of a $90 million police training facility — dubbed “Cop City” by opponents — nearly three weeks after a similar operation ended with officers fatally shooting a protester.

“In an ongoing effort to ensure that the site of the future City of Atlanta Public Safety Training Center is safe and secure, the (Georgia Bureau of Investigation), along with other law enforcement partners, conducted an operation to identify people who are illegally trespassing and/or engaging in criminal activity on the property,” Georgia Bureau of Investigation spokesperson Nelly Miles said in a statement. “Police made no arrests during this operation.”

The operation included Atlanta Police, Georgia State Patrol and a handful of other police, fire and prosecutorial agencies.

Images of the scene showed heavily armed law enforcement officers as well as construction equipment and crews on the site.

The police operation is the latest effort in the controversial push to build an 85-acre law enforcement facility, replete with firing range, mock city and burn building, in a forested area of Atlanta and neighboring DeKalb County.

However, the project has faced fierce pushback from protesters, such as the group “Stop Cop City,” due to its environmental impact and its further militarization of policing. Opponents have camped out at the site for months and tried to prevent construction on the site, leading to some violent clashes with police and aggressive charges of domestic terrorism.

About three weeks ago, law enforcement agencies carried out a “clearing operation” and fatally shot Manuel Esteban Paez Terán, a 26-year-old activist, who police said had shot a state trooper.

The police killing led to protests in downtown Atlanta that became destructive, according to police, as some within the crowd broke windows and attacked police vehicles.

Despite the controversy, Atlanta Mayor Andre Dickens announced last week the city and DeKalb County had reached an agreement to move forward with the police training facility. A large portion of the 385-acre land will be protected greenspace, according to the mayor.

“The city of Atlanta has the most extensive training requirements in the southeast, our training includes vital areas like de-escalation training techniques, mental health, community-oriented policing, crisis intervention training as well as civil rights history education. This training needs space and that’s exactly what this training center is going to offer,” Dickens said.

Activist was shot over a dozen times, family says

Details about what happened during Terán’s fatal interaction with police remains unclear.

The Georgia Bureau of Investigation said Terán did not comply with verbal commands and then shot a Georgia State Patrol Trooper, causing police to return fire. The injured trooper was in stable condition afterward, the bureau said.

The handgun used in the shooting had been purchased by Terán, according to the bureau.

At a news conference Monday, attorneys representing Terán’s family criticized the Georgia Bureau of Investigation for failing to release information about the police shooting and for ignoring pleas to meet with family members.

A private autopsy showed Terán had been shot over a dozen times by several different firearms, the attorneys said.

Terán had graduated from Florida State University and had been active in environmental causes, Terán’s mother Belkis said.

“All Manuel wanted to do was to protect the forest, preserve the good of the land for all people, create awareness, and help organize different communities. They had no malice or no intention of committing illegal acts,” she said, adding they were pacifists with no intention of resorting to violence as a way of defending themselves. “Manuel was a defender of the forest. Manuel had a heart full of love for the people, animals and trees.”

Family attorney Jeff Filipovitz also criticized law enforcement’s heavy-handed use of domestic terrorism charges against protesters occupying the Cop City site.

“We used to call that a sit-in protest. Now it’s terrorism,” he said.

Following the news conference, the Georgia Bureau of Investigation released a statement pledging a thorough investigation. The bureau also said they spoke with Terán’s family at the outset of the investigation and would not be releasing video for now.

“GBI agents are still in the process of reviewing numerous bodyworn camera videos connected to this incident,” the statement said. “Any video recovered relating to the case, to include audio, will be analyzed as part of the investigative process. We are not releasing any videos currently because agents are continuing to conduct key interviews and want to maintain the integrity of the investigation.”

Investigations of officer-involved shootings typically take 60 to 90 days, the bureau said. Once completed, the case file will be given to a special prosecutor, the bureau said.

Correction: A previous version of this article included quotes that incorrectly identified Manuel Esteban Paez Terán. This story has been updated to correct a description of the city’s police training techniques.

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CNN’s Jaide Timm-Garcia contributed to this report.

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