A message left by protesters near the site of Atlanta’s planned public safety training center. (Dyana Bagby)

DeKalb County District Attorney Sherry Boston announced Wednesday that her office is voluntarily recusing itself from reviewing the investigation of an officer who shot and killed an activist near the site where Atlanta plans to build a controversial public safety training center.

The fatal shooting happened Jan. 18 as law enforcement authorities attempted to clear protesters from the area near the Old Atlanta Prison Farm in unincorporated DeKalb County. The Georgia Bureau of Investigation, lead agency of the clearing operation, said Manuel Teran, 26, was shot and killed by police after he allegedly shot and wounded a Georgia State Patrol trooper.

Teran was one of many activists camping in the forest off Key Road to protest what they have dubbed “Cop City.” The GBI arrested numerous protesters after the shooting and charged them with domestic terrorism among other charges. A peaceful march to memorialize Teran turned violent over the weekend.

DeKalb District Attorney Sherry Boston.

Boston explained the DeKalb County District Attorney’s Office is a member of the multi-jurisdictional law enforcement task force that is investigating and prosecuting “acts of domestic terrorism” and related charges occurring in and around the site of the planned training center.

Boston said she has requested the Prosecuting Attorney’s Council of Georgia appoint an independent prosecutor to review the investigation when completed and decide if the officer committed a crime. By doing so, Boston wants the public to believe there is no appearance of wrongdoing.

“The overreaching reasoning for my recusal is that it is simply the right thing to do,” Boston said at a press conference.

“It avoids the appearance of any impropriety and is consistent with the mission of my office and our efforts to instill community trust and confidence in our criminal justice system,” she said.

When asked if she thought the GBI, also involved in the task force, could conduct an objective investigation of the shooting, Boston said that was a question for the GBI.

“But what I can say is our roles in officer involved shootings are very different. The GBI is tasked with the collection of evidence, the prosecuting agency is tasked with making a decision as to whether charges are warranted or whether the shooting was justified,” Boston said.

Boston said her office will continue to review and prosecute other cases of protesters arrested at the training center site; the recusal is only for the police shooting case.

“We remain committed to the prosecution of any and all cases relating to the Atlanta Police training facility,” she said. “The only recusal we are making today is specifically in to the officer-involved shooting investigation.”

Boston said police shootings “have become a conversation that really requires a commitment to the community” to ensure the public trusts and believes in a fair and complete investigation.

“When I ran for DA back in 2016, I assured the community that I was going to take a certain approach on these cases so that whatever the outcome yielded, that the community could feel that it was done with transparency, accountability and fairness,” Boston said.

The GBI issued a statement about Boston’s recusal. The full statement:

“We are aware that DeKalb County District Attorney Sherry Boston has recused herself from the January 18, 2023 officer involved shooting (OIS) case involving Manuel Esteban Paez Teran and a Georgia State Patrol trooper.  A special prosecutor will be assigned by the Prosecuting Attorneys’ Council to review our findings related to this case. 

“In the past decade, the GBI has investigated numerous OIS cases for local and state law enforcement. Our track record of impartiality precedes this January 18 incident.  The GBI and Georgia State Patrol are two separate agencies. As in every officer involved shooting investigation, our procedure is to gather information concerning OIS events and turn the investigative file over to the prosecutor in the jurisdiction the event occurred for their review and action.

“Since the investigation began, we have been able to connect the handgun found at the scene by various means to Teran, who shot the trooper during the clearing operation.

“We will continue to work with the Georgia Attorney General’s Office and the DeKalb County District Attorney’s Office in reference to the ongoing domestic terrorism investigation.”

Dyana Bagby

Dyana Bagby is a staff writer for Reporter Newspapers and Atlanta Intown.