The three Georgia men charged in last year’s killing of Ahmaud Arbery now face federal hate crime charges, the U.S. Department of Justice announced Wednesday, April 28.
A federal grand jury levied the new charges against Gregory McMichael, 65, his 35-year-old son Travis McMichael, and William “Roddie” Bryan, 51. All three were indicted for interference with rights and attempted kidnapping. The McMichael father-son duo also now faces charges of using, carrying and brandishing a firearm during and in relation to a crime of violence. Travis McMichael, who fired the shotgun blasts that killed Arbery, also stands accused of discharging a firearm during a violent crime.
Arbery, a 25-year-old Black man, was killed while jogging through a predominantly white subdivision in Brunswick, Georgia, on Feb. 23, 2020. Travis and Gregory McMichael jumped in their pickup truck and stalked Arbery when they saw him running in their neighborhood. Travis McMichael was armed with a Remington shotgun while his father toted a .357 Magnum revolver.
The father-son duo told authorities Arbery fit the description of a suspected burglar and claimed they were trying to make a citizen’s arrest. Bryan, one of the McMichaels’ neighbors, trailed Arbery in a second vehicle and recorded the shooting on his cell phone. Arbery was fatally shot three times at close range as he and Travis McMichael wrestled over McMichael’s shotgun.
No criminal charges were filed in the case until May 7, two days after Bryan’s cell phone recording of the shooting leaked to media and went viral online. All three men now face felony murder charges and are being held without bond as they await trial. No trial date has been set.
The Cobb County District Attorney’s Office is prosecuting the state case against Bryan and the McMichaels men. News of the federal charges comes just days after the The Atlanta Journal-Constitution confirmed that Jesse Evans, the lead prosecutor who’s spearheaded the murder cases against all three defendants, is leaving the DA’s office. Senior Assistant District Attorney Linda Dunikoski will take the helm of the team of prosecutors in Evans’ wake.
According to the Justice Department, Bryan and the McMichaels used threats, force and intimidation to “interfere with Arbery’s right to use a public street because of his race.” Indictments allege the McMichaels yelled at Arbery as they chased him down and boxed him in with their truck. Bryan joined in on the chase and helped the two men cut off Arbery’s route, federal authorities allege.
The three men then tried to detain and restrain Arbery against his will, and sought to hold him for a reward. The indictments allege their actions resulted in Arbery’s death.
The suspects did not face any hate crimes at the state level. That’s at least in part because Georgia was one of only four states in the nation that did not have any hate crime laws on the books at the time of Arbery’s death, Associated Press reported. State legislators reacted to the national outcry over his killing by passing a law allowing for such enhancements in crimes motivated by a victim’s race, religion, sex, sexual orientation, gender and other protected classes.
The indictments marked the first substantial civil rights prosecution by the Department of Justice under President Joe Biden’s administration.
Arbery’s mother, Wanda Cooper-Jones, rejoiced in the news Wednesday, April 29, telling CNN the federal charges are “huge” for her family.
“They did the investigation properly and they came out with those indictments,” she said. “So my family and I were pleased.”
Ben Crump, one of the civil rights attorneys representing Arbery’s family, called the federal hate crime charges “yet another step in the right direction” in a statement on Twitter.
“This is an important milestone in America’s uphill march toward racial justice, and we applaud the Justice Department for treating this heinous act for what it is — a purely evil, racially motivated hate crime,” Crump said.
Lee Merritt, another Arbery family attorney, also issued a statement regarding the news. He noted that Arbery would’ve celebrated his 27th birthday next week.
“Hate cost Ahmaud Arbery his life and has done catastrophic damage to his family and community,” he said. “This federal prosecution is an indication that racial violence will not be tolerated and will serve as a fail-safe at the state level.”
The news was not greeted with enthusiasm from everyone. Bob Rubin and Jason Sheffield, Travis McMichael’s Atlanta-based defense attorneys, issued a statement Wednesday belittling the DOJ’s decision to charge their client.
“We are deeply disappointed that the Justice Department bought the false narrative that the media and state prosecutors have promulgated,” they wrote. “There is absolutely nothing in the indictment that identifies how this is a federal hate crime and it ignores without apology that Georgia law allows a citizen to detain a person who was committing burglaries until police arrive.”
Bryan’s attorney, Kevin Gough, also objected to the new charges in a statement Wednesday.
“Roddie Bryan has committed no crime. We look forward to a fair and speedy trial, and to the day when Mr. Bryan is released and reunited with his family,” Gough stated.