Former police officer and son charged in shooting of Ahmaud Arbery

Updated: May 9, 2020

The two men involved in the killing of 25-year-old Ahmaud Arbery as he jogged through his neighbourhood in February have been charged with murder and aggravated assault.

Gregory McMichael, 64, and Travis McMichael, 34, were taken into custody and booked into the Glynn county jail, the Georgia Bureau of Investigations announced in a news release Thursday evening.

Arbery was killed in Brunswick, Georgia by the McMichaels and a newly emerged video of the shooting has caused fury. Audio recordings of two 911 calls have also shed further light on the final moments before he was shot dead by the two white men while jogging.

The shooting took place more than two months ago on 23 February, and family members have expressed their disgust and anger that the two men had not been charged. The incidents around the shooting remained unclear until an anonymous witness leaked a 36-second video including the moment of Arbery’s death.

Prosecutors had previously indicated their reluctance to file charges against Gregory McMichael and his son, Travis.

Tom Durden, the acting district attorney for a neighbouring district, said in a letter on Facebook: "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."

Mr Durden was assigned to investigate the 25-year-old's death after prosecutors in Brunswick and another neighbouring district recused themselves due to potential conflicts of interest.

According to a police report filed that day, the McMichaels grabbed their weapons, a .357 Magnum revolver and a shotgun, jumped into a truck and followed Arbery as he ran. In the same police report, they tell police Arbery matched the description of someone caught on a security camera committing a recent burglary in the neighborhood.

Arbery’s family has called for immediate arrests after the video was released this week. Celebrities and politicians, from LeBron James to Democratic candidate and former vice-president Joe Biden, expressed outrage and called for action. Until the footage was released this week, no charges or arrests had taken place.

In the video, which was taken by an unidentified witness in another car, Mr Arbery can be seen jogging down a narrow two-lane road and around a white pickup truck stopped in the right lane with its driver's door open. As he crosses back in front of the vehicle a gun is fired. Mr Arbery can then be seen struggling with a man holding a rifle as a second man stands in the bed of the truck brandishing a revolver. Two more shots are heard before he stumbles and falls face-down onto the ground.

Presidential candidate Joe Biden said: "The video is clear: Ahmaud Arbery was killed in cold blood. "My heart goes out to his family, who deserve justice and deserve it now. It is time for a swift, full, and transparent investigation into his murder." Soon after the video was released, Georgia’s governor, Brian Kemp, and the state’s attorney general Chris Carr called for swift action. Kemp called the shooting “absolutely horrific” in a press conference Thursday. It has been reported that the Glynn county police department did not request an independent investigation of the incident and did not charge anyone in the incident.

Gregory McMichael - a former police officer and district attorney's investigator - told detectives the incident began when he spotted Mr Arbery from his front yard "hauling ass" down the street.

Mr McMichael said he summoned his son to help chase Mr Arbery in the truck because he suspected him of being behind a series of burglaries in the area.

Gregory also claimed that Arbery began to "violently attack" Travis and fought him over the shotgun, prompting his son to open fire.

“I’m still in tears,” said Chris Stewart on Thursday evening after he heard the news. Stewart, who represents Arbery’s family, is a civil rights attorney who is working with the team of lawyers representing the family, including Lee Merritt and Ben Crump.

The 911 calls

The recordings, which emerged shortly after the video, have prompted an outcry and raised questions over why no arrests had been made up to that point. Transcripts of the 911 calls have been previously reported by local media.

In one call, made at 1.14pm, the dispatcher asks for the address and the reason for the call. An unidentified man’s voice can be heard responding, “Uh, I’m out here at Satilla Shores. There’s a black male running down the street,” referring to Arbery.

In an earlier call at 1.08pm, a different unidentified caller reports “a guy in a house right now, a house under construction”. The dispatcher asks if the man is breaking into the property, to which the caller responds: “No, it’s all open, it’s under construction.” The caller then says, “He’s running right now, and there he goes right now,” with reference to Arbery, who was taking his usual jog around the neighbourhood. The dispatcher asks: “OK, what is he doing?” The caller replies: “He’s running down the street.”

Mr Merritt said the justice department should also investigate the death as a hate crime. The Department of Justice, Matt Lloyd said that the FBI has said it’s assisting, and as is standard protocol, they are looking forward to working with them should information come to light of a potential federal violation.