Brunswick, GA – Police have charged a father and son with murder in the February shooting of a jogger they claimed they thought was a burglary suspect.
The Georgia Bureau of Investigation (GBI) announced the charges on Thursday night, one day after they began an investigation into the shooting of 25-year-old Ahmaud Arbery on Feb. 23, the Associated Press reported.
The arrests came after police released cell phone video filmed by a witness that showed exactly what happened when 64-year-old Gregory McMichael, and his son, 34-year-old Travis McMichael, jumped in their pickup truck and followed Arbery after they saw him jogging past their house.
The video filmed by a witness in another vehicle showed Arbery jogging up the middle of the residential road at about 1 p.m.
A white pickup truck was stopped in the road ahead of him.
In the video, Arbery dodged to the right onto the grass to go around the stopped truck.
Yelling can be heard in the video for a second, and then a gunshot, just before Arbery reappeared in front of the truck.
The video showed Gregory McMichael standing up in the bed of the pickup with a gun in his hand.
Arbery appeared to engage Travis McMichael, who was holding a shotgun, in a struggle for the gun that drifted off camera for a split second.
While they were off-camera, Travis McMichael’s gun went off – a puff of smoke is visible on the left side of the screen that indicated where the gunshot came from.
The video showed Arbery and Travis McMichael veered back into the frame, still engaged in a struggle over the gun, and then there was a third gunshot.
Arbery took a couple steps away from Travis McMichael and collapsed face-first in the middle of the street, the video showed.
Gregory McMichael got down from the back of the pickup, gun in hand, and was walking toward where Arbery lay on the ground as the video ended.
The police report said he claimed he and his son had called out to Arbery and told him they wanted to talk to him, the Associated Press reported.
Gregory McMichael told police that Arbery “began to violently attack” his son and then the two men fought over the shotgun.
Arbery was shot twice and died.
The police report said that after he was shot, Gregory McMichael said he rolled Arbery onto his back to see if he had a weapon, according to the Associated Press.
The police report did not say whether Arbery was armed during the altercation that led to his death, but there’s no evidence he used a weapon.
The first two attorneys initially assigned to prosecute the case had to remove themselves because of professional ties to the elder McMichael.
Glynn County District Attorney Jackie Johnson recused herself because Gregory McMichael had worked as an investigator for her up til his retirement in 2019, the Associated Press reported.
Then George E. Barnhill, a prosecutor with the Waycross Judicial District who was assigned to prosecute the case, argued that both McMichaels had acted legally under the Georgia citizen’s arrest and self-defense statutes, according to documents obtained by The New York Times.
It’s not clear what evidence would have allowed a citizen to legally detain Arbery.
But Barnhill eventually recused himself because his son had worked with Gregory McMichael in the past, The New York Times reported.
No arrests were made before May 7 because Tom Durden, the third prosecutor assigned to the case who was brought in from the Atlanta Judicial Circuit, said he wanted to convene a grand jury, the Associated Press reported.
“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 said Tuesday in a written statement.
But that could not happen for more than a month because the Georgia Supreme Court has prohibited grand juries from meeting until after June 12, The New York Times reported.
The Georgia Bureau of Investigation (GBI) announced Tuesday night that Durden had asked the agency to assist with the investigation into Arbery’s death, WSB reported.
Georgia Governor Brian Kemp said Thursday he had watched the video and was confident state investigators would be able to “find the truth,” the Associated Press reported.
“Earlier this week, I watched the video depicting Mr. Arbery’s last moments alive,” Kemp told reporters. “I can tell you it’s absolutely horrific, and Georgians deserve answers.”
Hours later, the GBI arrested both McMichaels on charges of murder and booked them into the Glynn County Jail, WXIA reported.
The McMichaels were being held without bond.
At a press conference on Thursday morning, GBI Director Vic Reynolds said investigators spent all day Wednesday reviewing the entire investigative file.
He said that on Thursday they canvassed the neighborhood and talked to people who had already been interviewed and interviewed people who had not yet talked to the police.
Reynolds told reporters that investigators began getting warrants on Thursday evening and took Gregory and Travis McMichael into custody at about 7:30 p.m.
He said the McMichaels were turned over to the custody of the Glynn County Sheriff’s Office after they were arrested.
Reynolds said that investigation was ongoing and GBI investigators would stay in the community and continue to look into what happened the day Arbery was shot.
The GBI director said there were things that hadn’t been investigated yet and his agency intended to continue looking into everything.
He said that the “probable cause” for the felony murder arrests was clear to his investigators quickly, but he refused to comment on the earlier investigation that was done and decisions that had been made by the prosecutor.
“We’ve been asked to conduct a murder investigation, that’s what we’re conducting,” Reynolds said.
The GBI director said that video played an important role in the investigation but it wasn’t the only evidence.
He said the GBI was still looking into whether William Bryan, the McMichaels’ neighbor who filmed the video of the incident from his car as he too was following Arbery, should also be arrested.
Reynolds said he had experts working to verify that the video hadn’t been edited prior to its release.
He said his investigators would be turning over a complete package to the prosecutor when they were finished.
The GBI director said that Georgia does not have a hate crime statute so the issue did not come into play for the McMichaels’ arrests.
The Brunswick NAACP has planned a rally for Friday, which would have been Arbery’s 26th birthday, WXIA reported.
“We are excited about this small victory but know we still have work to do,” a NAACP spokesman said. “So, the rally continues and we look to hold our local DA and law enforcement accountable for their failure to arrest.”
Arbery’s parents have retained heavy hitting attorneys to represent them as the investigation continues.
Benjamin Crump is representing the father, Marcus Arbery, and S. Lee Merritt is representing Arbery’s mother, Wanda Cooper.
Crump is best known for representing the families of Trayvon Williams and Michael Brown.
Merritt is known for having represented a number of civil rights clients in cases against law enforcement.
Merritt had previously made false claims against another officer which was disproved by bodycam video. After that false claim, Merritt refused to apologize and simply told people that the claims were false.
He was also accused of practicing law without a Texas license.