By Zoe Seiler, Decaturish
Decatur, GA — During a town hall on Thursday, April 20, state legislators from Decatur and DeKalb County agreed that the General Assembly should talk about requiring the Georgia State Patrol to wear body cameras. They also weighed in on the Atlanta Public Safety Training Center in response to audience questions.
Reps. Mary Margaret Oliver (D – Decatur), Omari Crawford (D – Decatur), Becky Evans (D – Atlanta) and Sen. Elena Parent (D – Senate District 42) hosted the town hall. A question submitted prior to the town hall asked the legislators if they would commit to introducing legislation to require the Georgia State Patrol to wear body cameras.
“I think that’s a good idea,” Oliver said. “The conversation about why they weren’t wearing body cameras has to do with [that] they have cameras in their cars now, because most of what they do is traffic offenses. That’s a conversation that we need to move forward on.”
The use of body cameras has been called into question in the wake of the shooting death of activist Manuel “Tortuguita” Paez Teran who was killed by law enforcement officers when Georgia State Patrol Troopers cleared the site of the Atlanta Public Safety Training Center on Jan. 18. The Troopers involved were not wearing body cameras.
The future site of the Atlanta Public Training Center , called “Cop City” by activists, has been the center of controversy for many months. Critics and protesters claim the southwest Atlanta location of the so-called “Cop City” will lead to increased police brutality in Black communities surrounding the Weelaunee Forest and bring environmental destruction to ancestral lands.
According to the DeKalb County Medical Examiner, Teran sustained at least 57 gunshot wounds. Their death has been ruled a homicide, according to a copy of the report provided to Decaturish. It’s unclear how many times Teran was shot.
Evans agreed and said she would encourage Gov. Brian Kemp to mandate that State Patrol officers wear body cameras.
Crawford added that the DeKalb County Police Department uses body cameras. He said he believes that legislation requiring body cameras should pass.
“As an attorney that represents DeKalb County Police Department, body cameras do two things,” Crawford said. “One, it makes sure that officers are not operating outside the scope of what their job description says. Two…it helps to protect police officers.”
Crawford is an assistant county attorney for DeKalb County. According to LinkedIn, part of Crawford’s job involves assisting and defending employees of DeKalb County public safety departments and agencies in civil lawsuits.
Another audience member asked if the legislators would support an independent investigation of the shooting and if they support the construction of the training facility.
“The autopsy was very shocking to me,” Oliver said. “I did not expect to hear 50 bullet [wounds]. I did not expect to hear that there was no residue on the deceased’s hands.”
She also said the decision to put the training center in “DeKalb’s best opportunity for greenspace and renewal” was a bad decision.
Crawford added that the investigation will be extensive and likely will not be open to the public until the investigation is complete. Parent also added that it’s important to have police officers who are well-trained.
“I think that the situation is tragic,” Parent said. “There’s no doubt that we need to have law enforcement. In my view, it is much better to have them well-trained and well-paid, because I think that you can get higher caliber individuals….whether that that is the best or only appropriate place for it, I think is a whole other issue.”
Evans supports Atlanta Mayor Andre Dickens’ task force to further engage the community on plans for the Atlanta Public Safety Training Center site as well as the surrounding greenspace.
The city of Atlanta is also relaunching a website focused on the project that has additional information about plans for greenspace enhancement and protection, as well as information on the purpose and vision for the Atlanta Public Safety Training Center, according to a previous press release.
“I want to see their work and there is a lot of land there for greenspace even outside of that property,” Evans said.
The legislators didn’t weigh in on whether there should be an independent investigation. DeKalb County District Attorney Sherry Boston has recused herself from the case. George Christian, the Habersham County District Attorney, has been tasked with determining if any officers will face criminal charges related to the shooting.