The fatal shooting of a 25-year-old Black man in a South Georgia neighborhood remains under investigation, with no charges filed, despite a father’s admissions that he and his shotgun-wielding son chased down and killed the unarmed man they saw running through their neighborhood.
Ahmaud Marquez Arbery, 25, was fatally shot at approximately 1:08 p.m. on Sunday, Feb. 23, in the Satilla Shores neighborhood of Brunswick, Georgia, after being confronted on a street by Gregory McMichael and his son, Travis McMichael, both of whom were armed, according to a Glynn County Police report of the incident.
The fatal encounter occurred after the father and son suspected Arbery as a burglar in their neighborhood, the police report states. The two told police several recent break-ins had occurred in the neighborhood prior to the Feb. 23 incident.
Gregory McMichael told police that security video in the neighborhood indicated Arbery as a suspect to him and that he and his son grabbed guns from the younger McMichael’s house and pursued Arbery after spotting him from the home’s front yard running down the street.
“McMichael stated he then ran inside his house and called to Travis [McMichael] and said, ‘Travis, the guy is running down the street, let’s go,’” the report says.
The confrontation that claimed Arbery’s life occurred farther inside the neighborhood.
According to the police report, Gregory McMichael, who was armed with a .357 Magnum handgun, and his son Travis, who was armed with a shotgun, attempted to interrupt Arbery’s run twice. During the first attempt Travis drove down Buford Road and tried unsuccessfully to cut off Arbery with the truck, the report says. During the second attempt Arbery had been “running back in the direction from which he came,” the report said. Travis McMichael again tried to cut Arbery off with the truck without any success, according to the report.
Travis McMichael then pulled up beside Arbery and again made it known they wanted to talk, the report says. At that point, Travis McMichael exited the vehicle, shotgun in hand, according to the police report.
“[Gregory] McMichael stated he saw [Arbery] begin to “violently attack Travis and the two men then started fighting over the shotgun, at which point Travis fired a shot and then a second later there was a second shot,” the report says. “McMichael stated the male fell face down on the pavement with his hand under his body.”
“McMichael stated he rolled the man over to see if the male had a weapon,” the report continues. “I observed blood on McMichael’s hands from rolling [Arbery] over.” The police report does not indicate that Arbery was armed.
The shooting death sparked a series of protests in the Black community local to the coastal Georgia town. Many believe Arbery fell victim to racial profiling — the McMichaels are white and Satilla Shores is a predominantly white neighborhood.
His friends and family said Arbery, who was wearing a white T-shirt, khaki shorts, Nike sneakers and a bandanna when he was killed, was an avid jogger, The New York Times reports.
A Facebook page with hashtags #IRunWithMaud and #JusticeForAhmaud have been created as part of a pressure campaign, emailing law enforcement officials and the local newspaper, bringing attention to the open case.
“There are a lot of people absolutely ready to protest,” Jason Vaughn, a football coach at Brunswick High School who coached Arbery, an outside linebacker, told The New York Times. “But because of social distancing and being safe, we have to watch what’s going on with the coronavirus.”
Ware County District Attorney George Barnhill’s office was tasked with determining whether criminal charges are warranted in the slaying, but conflicts of interest have forced him off the case even as it has emerged that Barnhill already had indicated which he was leaning on charging the two men.
The Brunswick News reports that Greg McMichael “served for more than 30 years as an investigator for the Brunswick Judicial Circuit District Attorney’s Office before retiring last May,” and as a Glynn County police officer for seven years prior to that. This led officials to turn the case over to the Ware County District Attorney’s Office. However Ware District Attorney George E. Barnhill removed himself from the case late this month at the request of Arbery’s family after they discovered that Barnhill’s son, George F. Barnhill, is an assistant DA under Brunswick’s DA Jackie Johnson.
According to The New York Times, Barnhill had been set to determine the shooting justified, arguing that the McMichaels had acted within the scope of Georgia’s citizen’s arrest statute, and Travis McMichael had killed Arbery in self-defense.
The Times, citing documents it obtained about the case, says Barnhill had written that Arbery was a “burglary suspect,” and the McMichaels had “solid firsthand probable cause” to justify chasing him.
The Times’ reporting paints a picture of Barnhill as practically acting as the McMichaels’ attorney in his willingness to find reasons not to charge the two men. Another document the paper cites says Barnhill claims video exists of Arbery “burglarizing a home immediately preceding the chase and confrontation.” Barnhill also wrote a letter to police, citing yet another video, one of the shooting filmed by a third pursuer.
The Times reported that Barnhill said this supposed video, which the public has not seen, shows Arbery attacking Travis McMichael after the father-son duo pulled up to him in their truck.
Barnhill told police this video shows Arbery trying to grab the shotgun from Travis McMichael’s hands, which amounted to self-defense under Georgia law — for Travis McMichael. Barnhill told police Travis McMichael “was allowed to use deadly force to protect himself.”
Barnhill‘s public statements about the case had struck a far more neutral tone than those he made in internal documents. He had told the local newspaper he needed Arbery’s autopsy results to assist in making a determination about the case.
“The autopsy was released on April 1 and it hit my desk on April 3,” Barnhill told the Brunswick News. “We were waiting on the bullet wound to show the bullet’s path.” It’s not clear from Barnhill’s statements what that meant, as shotgun loads contain multiple pellets, not a bullet.
The veteran prosecutor continued to present himself publicly as an open-minded party in the process even after he recused himself, telling the Brunswick News, “I’m off that case since last week. The family of the victim asked us to get off the case. The family was insistent that I get off the case. So I said, fine, I’m off of it.”
The case now has been turned over to District Attorney Tom Durden in the neighboring Atlantic Circuit District. Durden also claims to be open-minded about the case.
“We don’t know anything about the case,” he told The New York Times. “We don’t have any preconceived idea about it.”