BRUNSWICK, Ga. — The family of Ahmaud Arbery, the unarmed black man gunned down as he jogged near his Georgia home in February, is demanding that authorities arrest the two white men responsible for his death.
Arbery, who would have turned 26 on Friday, was shot at least twice with a shotgun by Travis McMichael, who, along with his retired law enforcement father, Greg McMichael, was chasing Arbery because they thought he was an alleged burglar in their Satilla Shores subdivision just outside of Brunswick.
The entire shooting was captured on cellphone video by a third man who was searching for the burglary suspect. Both McMichaels were armed during the confrontation.
Arbery was unarmed. Neither McMichael has been charged with a crime.
“When the crime happened, that day, they chose to believe the killers and didn’t do any kind of thorough investigation,” said civil rights attorney Benjamin Crump, one of the lawyers representing Arbery’s family. “They took the word of the killers as the gospel.”
Arbery’s mother, Wanda Cooper Jones, told Good Morning America Thursday that she has not been able to bring herself to watch the footage of her son dying.
“I don’t think I’ll ever ben in a mental state where I can actually watch the video,” Jones said. “I had others that watched it and shared what they saw, and that was enough.”
Click here to see the footage of Ahmaud Arbery’s fatal shooting. Warning: The footage is graphic in nature.
Jones described her son as having “the most humble spirit.”
“Ahmaud was kind. He was well-mannered,” she said. “Ahmaud, most of all, was loved by his family and peers.
"Ahmaud didn’t deserve to go the way he went.”
Watch the family and their lawyers talk about the case below on Good Morning America.
Jones said she thinks Greg McMichael’s background as a Glynn County police officer and a longtime investigator for the Brunswick Judicial Circuit District Attorney’s Office is the reason no charges have been filed against either him or his son.
“I think that no arrests have been made, basically, because of the title that he carried as a retired police officer,” Jones said. “I think they don’t feel like he was wrong, because he was one of them.”
Marcus Arbery Sr., the victim’s father, told the news program that he believes his son died simply because he was black.
“It’s got to stop somewhere,” Arbery said. “It’s got to stop somewhere with our kids.”
Anger and frustration
Arbery’s family is not the only group incensed by his killing. The release of the footage of his death has garnered criticism from everyone from government leaders and civil rights activists to legendary athletes and other celebrities. The hashtag #AhmaudArbery began trending Tuesday as protesters took advantage of Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp’s easing of coronavirus stay-at-home restrictions.
Georgia’s first lady tweeted that she was “deeply troubled” by the footage of Arbery’s killing and said her family’s hearts are broken for his loved ones.
“Local law enforcement has accepted the @GBI_GA’s offer of assistance in this case, and Director Reynolds and his team stand ready to leverage their full resources in the investigation,” Marty Kemp tweeted. Her husband, the governor, retweeted her comments. “As the mother of three daughters, I am keeping the community in my prayers and stand strongly on the side of justice.”
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi tweeted that she was sickened by the news of Arbery’s senseless death.
“#AhmaudArbery’s life mattered,” Pelosi wrote. “As we mourn his death, we owe it to his family, his loved ones and his memory to ensure justice is served without further delay.”
Many people’s reaction to the footage was less sadness and more anger.
“We’re literally hunted EVERYDAY/EVERYTIME we step foot outside the comfort of our homes,” NBA star LeBron James tweeted Wednesday evening. “Can’t even go for a damn jog, man.”
Actress and producer Viola Davis quoted Fannie Lou Hamer, a civil rights leader and activist for voting and women’s rights, in a post on Facebook.
“I am sick and tired of being sick and tired,” Hamer’s quote read on Davis’ page.
Davis linked to RunWithMaud.com, a website set up to host a petition demanding justice in Arbery’s death. As of Thursday afternoon, more than a million people had signed the petition.
Actress Kerry Washington also urged people to sign up to run in Arbery’s name.
The Georgia NAACP tweeted a photo of Greg and Travis McMichael, calling them the “murderers” of Arbery.
“A career with the Brunswick DA’s Office does not make you immune from being prosecuted for murder,” the tweet said. “We will not stop until justice is served.”
Glynn County Sheriff E. Neal Jump asked Arbery’s family and their supporters to remain patient as the probe continues.
“If I were the parents of the young man, I’d totally be just like his parents,” Jump told Good Morning America. “I’d be wanting answers.”
Jump said the justice system moves slowly, but gets the job done.
At a protest held Tuesday in the neighborhood where Arbery was slain, Jump made similar statements, according to Action News Jax.
“If that was my son, I’d be upset. I can only imagine what the mother and dad are going through,” Jump told those gathered. “We have to go through the justice system. You give me an arrest warrant and I’ll lock up Satan himself if I can find him.”
The coronavirus pandemic has brought much of the justice system to a grinding halt nationwide, but Greg McMichael’s former line of work has helped slow things down in the Arbery case.
Jackie Johnson, district attorney for the Brunswick Judicial District, recused her office early in the investigation of the Feb. 23 shooting due to the conflict of interest there. The Georgia Attorney General’s Office then assigned the case to the Waycross Judicial Circuit, but prosecutor George Barnhill ultimately recused himself as well, in part because his son works in Johnson’s office.
Barnhill wrote in a letter to the Glynn County Police Department, however, that he saw no grounds for the arrest of any of the three men who chased Arbery -- neither the McMichaels nor a third man who recorded the fatal confrontation.
“It appears Travis McMichael, Greg McMichael and (William Bryan) were following, in ‘hot pursuit,’ a burglary suspect, with solid firsthand probable cause, in their neighborhood, and asking/telling him to stop,” Barnhill wrote. “It appears their intent was to stop and hold this criminal suspect until law enforcement arrived. Under Georgia law, this is perfectly legal.”
Barnhill also wrote that the McMichaels were carrying their weapons in an open fashion and that neither had felony convictions prohibiting them from owning firearms.
The investigation went quiet while a third district attorney, Tom Durden of the Atlantic Judicial Circuit, reviewed the case. On Tuesday, after the graphic video footage of Arbery’s killing first surfaced on social media, Durden announced that he would present the case to a grand jury.
“After careful review of the evidence presented,” Durden wrote in a news release, “I am of the opinion that the case should be presented to the grand jury of Glynn County for consideration of criminal charges against those involved in the death of Mr. Arbery.”
Durden has also formally asked the Georgia Bureau of Investigation to open a probe into Arbery’s death, according to a statement from the GBI.
Lee Merritt, another attorney representing Arbery’s family, told Good Morning America that a grand jury is unnecessary, particularly considering the fact that the COVID-19 pandemic has postponed any proceedings until at least mid-June.
“Prosecutors will need a grand jury in order to formally indict these men, but that has nothing to do with actually going out and arresting the men seen on camera murdering a 25-year-old unarmed black man,” Merritt said. “The prosecutors actually have the option, if they so choose to, to directly indict and skip the entire grand jury process.
“It’s something that happens all the time in our legal system and this would certainly be an appropriate moment as well.”
Merritt told the news show that he believes Barnhill should be brought up on ethics charges.
A broad-daylight killing
Arbery, a former high school athlete, was often seen jogging in his neighborhood, according to his family. The afternoon of Feb. 23, however, he caught the eye of Greg McMichael, who suspected Arbery was the man responsible for several recent break-ins.
In one 911 call made prior to the chase, a resident told a dispatcher there was “a black man running down the street” in Satilla Shores.
A second 911 caller told another dispatcher a black man was inside a home under construction. The dispatcher seemed puzzled about what the aforementioned man was being accused of.
Action News Jax obtained the 911 call, the contents of which are seen below.
- Caller: “There’s a guy in the house right now. It’s under construction.”
- Dispatcher: “And you said someone’s breaking into it right now?”
- Caller: “No, it’s all open. It’s under construction ... and there he goes right now.”
- Dispatcher: “OK, what is he doing?”
- Caller: “He is running down the street.”
- Dispatcher: “That’s fine I will get police out there. I just need to know what he was doing wrong. Was he just on the premises and not supposed to be?”
- Caller: “He has been caught on camera a bunch at night. It’s kind of an ongoing thing. The man building the house has got heart issues. I think he’s not going to finish it.”
- Dispatch: “OK, that’s fine. And you said he was a male in a black T-shirt?”
- Caller: “White T-shirt. Black guy, white T-shirt. He’s done run into the neighborhood again.”
NBC News reported last week that authorities had not linked Arbery to the string of alleged break-ins.
“McMichael stated he was in his front yard and saw the suspect from the break-ins ‘hauling (expletive)’ down Satilla Drive toward Buford Drive,” according to the police report. “McMichael stated he then ran inside his house and called to Travis and said, ‘Travis, the guy is running down the street, let’s go.’”
Greg McMichael went to his bedroom and grabbed his .357 Magnum, while his son grabbed a shotgun because they “didn’t know if the male was armed or not,” the police report said.
“McMichael stated ‘the other night’ they saw the same male and he stuck his hand down his pants which lead them to believe the male was armed,” the report said.
Read the entire police report in Ahmaud Arbery’s death below.
Father and son got into Travis McMichael’s pickup truck and began chasing Arbery. They tried multiple times to cut him off, but each time, he turned and jogged in the opposite direction.
Greg McMichael said he jumped into the bed of the truck as Travis McMichael continued to pursue Arbery.
“McMichael stated they saw the unidentified male and shouted, ‘Stop, stop, we want to talk to you,’” the police report said. “McMichael stated they pulled up beside the male and shouted ‘stop’ again, at which time Travis exited the truck with the shotgun.”
Greg McMichael said Arbery began to “violently attack” his son and the two men began fighting over the shotgun, at which point Travis McMichael fired a shot, then a second shot.
“McMichael stated the male fell face down on the pavement with his hand under his body,” the report said. “McMichael stated he rolled the man over to see if the male had a weapon.”
Disturbing video footage
Bryan’s video, which began circulating on social media this week, appears to show, however, that the first shot was fired before Arbery could grab the weapon. It also contradicts Greg McMichael’s claim that he and his son pulled up alongside Arbery and told him to stop.
The video shows Bryan pull up in his own vehicle as Arbery jogs down a residential street. Arbery comes upon Travis McMichael’s light-colored pickup truck, which is already parked in the roadway ahead of him.
Greg McMichael can be seen in the bed of the truck, a handgun in his hand.
Arbery jogs around the passenger side of the truck, into the grass, in an attempt to run around the men. As he runs around the front of the truck and approaches Travis McMichael, the first shot can be heard.
Though Arbery appears to be in close proximity to the shotgun, there does not appear to be a scuffle between him and Travis McMichael before McMichael fires the weapon the first time.
After the first shotgun blast, Arbery tries to get the gun away from McMichael and punches at the armed man multiple times. Two additional shots are fired as Arbery fights for his life.
Arbery starts to stumble away from Travis McMichael before falling to the roadway, mortally wounded.
The police report on the shooting stated that officers found Arbery “bleeding out” in the street. He died where he lay.
Read Barnhill’s letter to the Glynn County Police Department below.
In his letter, Barnhill appeared to blame Arbery for his own death.
“The angle of the shots and the video show this was from the beginning or almost immediately became a fight over the shotgun,” Barnhill wrote. “Given the fact Arbery initiated the fight, at the point Arbery grabbed the shotgun, under Georgia law, McMichael was allowed to use deadly force to protect himself.”
Barnhill wrote that, although McMichael had his finger on the trigger, “we do not know who caused the firings.”
“Arbery would have only had to pull the shotgun approximately 1/16th to 1/8th of one inch to fire the weapon himself and in the height of an altercation this is entirely possible,” the prosecutor wrote. “Arbery’s mental health records and prior convictions help explain his apparent aggressive nature and his possible thought pattern to attack an armed man.”
Merritt strenuously disputed Barnhill’s interpretation of the video, which he said had been repeatedly kept from Arbery’s family before it was released anonymously online.
“As a result of local law enforcement’s failure to share the video with the victim’s family, they will see his horrific murder for the first time on the internet,” Merritt said. “While this video was withheld, a false narrative was constructed where the victim was slandered as a criminal with mental health concerns.”
Merritt told CNN over the weekend that Arbery’s alleged criminal background was a shoplifting conviction in his past.
“The reference to … alleged conduct from high school or shoplifting is absurd and has nothing to do with his murder,” Merritt said.
Merritt said Tuesday that the video “clearly shows Mr. Arbery jogging down the road in the middle of the day.” He argued that Arbery made multiple attempts to avoid the armed men, who were strangers to him.
Where Barnhill claimed Arbery attacked Travis McMichael, Merritt said Arbery appeared to collide with the gunman, at which point the shooting began.
At that point, the attorney said, the encounter became a fight for Arbery’s life.
“Mr. Arbery had not committed any crime and there was no reason for these men to believe they had the right to stop him with weapons or to use deadly force in furtherance of their unlawful attempted stop,” Merritt said. “This is murder.”
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