Dear Media, Speculation is Not Evidence

Screenshot of footage released by the Atlanta Police Department of the January 18, 2023 “clearing operation” to remove protesters illegally occupying the future site of a public safety training center they oppose

February 10, 2023

The footage does indeed exist, however the officer did not “suggest” any such thing (he merely speculated among the confusion of the moment). Furthermore, other officers speculated the exact opposite during the same conversations, none of them were at the scene of the actual shooting, and all the evidence that has been gathered so far (after weeks of investigation) indicates such a “suggestion” is not true; making reporting on it at this point an extremely unprofessional bit of statement bias. So much for responsible journalism.

Prominent out-of-context quote displayed to promote an unsupported perspective in the Intercept article

Of the four videos released at this point, the first (labeled 39-3.mp4) contains most of the relevant quotes. All four videos are from the same group of officers focused on the same area. The officers in the video are sweeping a different area of the forest than where the incident with Teran occurred (not captured on video, as the Georgia state troopers were not wearing body cameras). The officers were searching for protesters illegally occupying the site. Approximately 18 minutes into the video (timestamp around 9:01 am), several successive gunshots can be heard nearby (but not in their immediate vicinity) followed quickly by a barrage of what appear to be more gunshots. The officers seen in the video take cover behind some trees and standby. There is some communication between this group of officers and others elsewhere via radio, however this group of officers quickly reorients itself on a green tent in their vicinity. Approximately 22 minutes into the video (timestamp 9:04 am) there is chatter among officers. One mentions some of the gunfire sounded “suppressed” and another officer can be heard saying, “You f**ked your own officer up.” None of these officers were involved in the incident, were anywhere near the incident, or had any firsthand knowledge of the incident at that point beyond hearing the gunshots. The officers spend the remainder of the video clearing the green tent that had been found in the area by setting up a perimeter around it, issuing verbal commands to anyone inside to come out, firing less-than-lethal rounds into the tent, and deploying gas. Upon determining the tent was unoccupied, the officers regroup. At approximately 37 minutes into the video (timestamp 9:21 am) the officers again discuss what may have happened regarding the shots fired at the other location. An officer asks, “They shot they own man?” Other officers appear to respond, “We don’t know where he got shot” and “Nah, the first ones they say was suppressed. Came from him.” “About three rounds.” “That’s what I heard.” It is difficult to hear everything that is being said due to muffled voices and background noise (sirens, officer movement, coughing from the administered gas, etc).

Whatever the words that were spoken, it is extremely likely given the context that the involved officers were merely speculating with imperfect information at that moment. The release of this footage and the subsequent rumors it has started among the anti-Cop City community prompted the GBI to issue a statement:

Atlanta, GA (February 9, 2023) – The GBI is committed to a full, complete, and accurate investigation. Yesterday, the Atlanta Police Department released bodycam video of their officers who were involved in the joint operation to clear the site of the future City of Atlanta Public Safety Training Center. In those videos, at least one statement exists where an officer speculates that the Trooper was shot by another officer in crossfire. Speculation is not evidence.  Our investigation does not support that statement.  

The GBI added:

We ask for your patience as we continue our investigation. In addition to the collection of evidence, forensic evaluation and analysis, the investigative process includes among other things the interview of not only the officers at the immediate scene, but also all personnel who were present during the operation. When the investigation is complete, all videos will be provided. One of the rationales behind not publicly releasing videos during active investigations is that witness interviews are a key way to obtain information regarding facts surrounding an incident. Memory and perception are fragile, and a myriad of factors can influence perception and memory, including an individual’s background, experiences, the turmoil, and emotional impact of a significant incident, as well as the viewing of a video before giving a statement.  That is the rationale behind Georgia’s law which allows agencies to exempt the public disclosure of videos in an active investigation. (OCGA § 50-18-72(a)(4)). The GBI is continuing to investigate the incident from January 18th and is being as comprehensive in the investigation as possible.  The initial assessment given by the GBI concerning the incident is still valid.  Our investigation will continue to look at every aspect, to include statements made at the scene, and each will be evaluated.   

We can expect this type of manipulation of the narrative from partisans involved in their causes on Twitter, but The Intercept ought to know better. Their headline is particularly troublesome given that many people do not bother delving into the actual article for clarification. Once rumors like this start, it is difficult to correct them. If clarification is issued at all, the number of people that actually hear it is always dwarfed by the people that heard the simple rumor.

Be careful what media you consume and always check the relevant facts!

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