BRUNSWICK, Ga. — >>UPDATE: Gregory and Travis McMichael charged with murder
The last video of Ahmaud Arbery is difficult to watch.
The graphic footage, recorded Feb. 23 by one of three white men in pursuit of Arbery, shows the moment when the 25-year-old black man, whose family said he was out for a routine jog near his Georgia home, was gunned down by an armed father and son -- one of whom is a former police officer.
A grand jury will now decide if the men, who claim the shooting was in self-defense during a citizen’s arrest, will face criminal charges. Meanwhile, the final images of Arbery’s life have stoked nationwide outrage.
Arbery’s mother, Wanda Cooper Jones, told CNN on Sunday that her son was not armed when he was killed. A former high school athlete, Arbery was often seen jogging in his neighborhood to stay in shape, his family and friends have said.
The family had not seen the footage of his death Wednesday, according to The Associated Press.
“I saw my son come into the world,” Jones told reporters. “And seeing him leave the world, it’s not something that I’ll want to see ever.”
Click here to see the footage of Ahmaud Arbery’s fatal shooting. Warning: The footage is graphic in nature.
Loved ones and civil rights activists, angry at the lack of arrests, have been pressing for months for Georgia authorities to act.
“I’m feeling very discouraged at this point,” Cooper told NBC News last week. “The tragedy happened back in February and there still has not been an arrest.”
On Tuesday, more than two months after Arbery’s killing, Atlantic Judicial Circuit Tom Durden announced that the case will be put before 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, a civil rights attorney representing Arbery’s family, responded to the announcement by saying the promise of a grand jury is not enough.
“The Glynn County Police Department has both the authority and legal imperative to make an arrest today pending the presentation of this case to a grand jury,” Merritt said in a Facebook post. “Tom Durden KNOWS that grand juries have been temporarily suspended due to the pandemic. These men should not walk the streets freely in the meantime.”
Until this week, the protests for justice in Arbery’s death had been relegated to the internet due to stay-at-home orders. The deadly coronavirus pandemic has also brought the justice system to a screeching halt.
According to the AP, it would likely be at least mid-July before a grand jury can be convened due to the COVID-19 restrictions.
Bolstered by Gov. Brian Kemp’s easing this week of Georgia’s preventative measures, dozens of protesters on Tuesday took to the streets of the neighborhood where Arbery was slain, marching to the home of the men involved.
“No justice, no peace!” they chanted.
Others gathered outside the Georgia State Capitol Wednesday to protest Arbery’s death.
Glynn County Sheriff E. Neal Jump attended Tuesday’s protest to ensure that it remained peaceful, 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.”
Additional protests were being planned Wednesday throughout the community.
Read the Glynn County police report on the shooting below.
The men involved in Arbery’s slaying are Travis McMichael, 34, who fired the shots that killed Arbery, and Greg McMichael, a 64-year-old former police officer and retired investigator for the Brunswick Judicial Circuit District Attorney’s Office.
Arbery’s family has said they believe the McMichaels’ connection to law enforcement has stalled the investigation. According to The New York Times, Durden is the third prosecutor assigned to the case.
Two others have recused themselves due to ties to Greg McMichael, who prior to his 34-year career as a Brunswick DA’s investigator was a police officer with the Glynn County Police Department -- the same agency that first investigated the shooting. Greg McMichael retired from the DA’s office last May, according to Jackie Johnson, district attorney for the Brunswick Judicial District.
Johnson recused her office from the case early in the investigation. 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 a letter to the Glynn County Police Department, Barnhill said the recusal was because Cooper, the victim’s mother, “believes there are kinships between the parties (there are not) and has made other unfounded allegations of bias(es).”
His son also works in Johnson’s office, where Greg McMichael had served as an investigator since 1985.
A broad-daylight killing
Arbery, 25, was running in the Satilla Shores neighborhood around 1 p.m. Feb. 23 when Greg McMichael spotted him. Cooper told NBC News that it wasn’t uncommon for her son to jog through Satilla Shores, which is not far from where they lived together.
“I knew that at some point, he went to that subdivision,” Cooper said. “As a mother, I never worried about him jogging or just running as long as he stayed within the streets. I mean, no one should bother him.”
According to a Glynn County police report, Greg McMichael told police there had been several recent break-ins in the neighborhood. In a 911 call made prior to the chase, a resident in the neighborhood told dispatchers a black man was inside a home under construction, the Times reported.
Action News Jax, which covers Glynn County, obtained the 911 call. Its content is 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.”
Greg McMichael apparently believed Arbery was the man responsible for the break-ins, though NBC News reported last week that authorities had not linked him to the alleged crimes.
“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 stated.
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,’” according to the police report. “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.”
Barnhill offered his opinion of the case the day after the shooting, according to a letter he later wrote to Glenn County police officials.
In Barnhill’s letter, he wrote that he saw no grounds for an arrest of any of the three men who chased Arbery -- the McMichaels and a third man who recorded the confrontation between them and Arbery.
“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 prosecutor described the video shot by Bryan. He accused Arbery of initiating the confrontation by attacking Travis McMichael in a fight over the shotgun he was holding.
“The first shot is through Arbery’s right-hand palm, which is consistent with him grabbing and pulling the shotgun at the barrel tip,” the letter stated.
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.
Travis McMichael is already standing in the road near the driver’s side of the truck. Greg McMichael can be seen in the bed of the truck, a handgun in his hand.
Read District Attorney George Barnhill’s letter about the Arbery case below.
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 close to the shotgun, there does not appear to be a scuffle between the two men before Travis McMichael fires the weapon the first time.
After the first shotgun blast, Arbery tries to get the gun away from Travis 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.
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 only (have) had to pull the shotgun approximately 1/16th to 1/8th of one inch to fire 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.”
The attorney argued that, because the Georgia Supreme Court has suspended grand jury activity during the pandemic, the McMichaels should be taken into custody pending an indictment.
Anger and an online movement
Activist Shaun King, who posted the video of the shooting Tuesday on Twitter, apologized for posting it but said he shared it in pursuit of justice for Arbery, who he said was the victim of a “modern-day lynching.”
“I am trembling with anger over what I just witnessed,” King wrote. “This is the lynching of Ahmaud Arbery. It’s one of the worst things I’ve seen in my entire life.”
King promoted a website, runwithrmaud.com, on which visitors can sign a petition demanding the Department of Justice and FBI investigate Arbery’s killing. The petition also demands that prosecutors bring charges and that the Georgia Bureau of Investigation begin a probe in the case.
As of noon Wednesday, nearly 150,000 people had signed the petition.
John Perry II, a pastor in Glynn County and head of the Brunswick-area NAACP, led a group of civic leaders, both white and black, in a video statement demanding justice for Arbery.
“The reality is this,” Perry said in the video. “When we look at the evidence that we’ve been presented with thus far, there should have been an arrest made in this particular case.”
Perry said he understands that many in the community are angry over Arbery’s death but urged them to channel their anger in the right direction.
“We’re calling for the immediate dismissal of the police chief that was responsible at the time of this incident,” he said.
That police chief, John Powell, was indicted April 27 -- four days after Arbery’s killing -- on charges that he and three former high-ranking police officials ignored evidence that a Glynn County officer was connected to a drug dealer.
According to the Brunswick News, the case involves a narcotics officer who had a sexual relationship with a confidential informant. The indictments came amid allegations of a cover-up of information in a police chase involving the Glynn-Brunswick Narcotics Enforcement Team that ended with a fatality.
Powell is charged with four counts of violation of oath by a public officer, two counts of influencing a witness and one count of criminal attempt to commit perjury, the News reported. He is currently on administrative leave.
“We’re asking our Glynn County commissioners, along with the city manager, that you immediately fire him,” Perry said in the video.
Perry and the other civic leaders also asked that a grand jury be convened immediately and that the McMichaels be charged in Arbery’s death.
See the video below.
Runwithmaud.com, paid for by the Action PAC, calls the Glynn County Police Department a “notoriously corrupt institution,” citing the scandal involving the drug informant and alleged interference with officer-involved shooting investigations.
The website offers a link to the petition and numbers angry citizens can call to seek justice for Arbery.
“He was out for a jog when he was chased down, shot and killed by two white supremacists. We must demand the justice he deserves. Click below to get started or call 770-800-0689 to demand justice for Ahmaud right away,” the website says.
The Georgia NAACP said Wednesday that members will join Arbery’s family Friday morning for a protest at the Glynn County Courthouse.
“We refuse to rest until freedom comes,” the state organization said.
Arbery’s obituary describes him as a loving son, brother, uncle, nephew, cousin and friend who never left his loved ones without telling them he loved them.
“He was humble, kind, and well mannered,” the obituary said. “He had a smile that would light up a room. He loved to tell jokes, to elicit laughter, and had a beautiful personality.”
Along with his parents, Arbery is survived by two siblings, many aunts, his nephews and his grandmother.