Grand jury review recommended as video emerges of fatal shooting of unarmed black man
2 armed men -- one a former district attorney investigator -- claimed they were making citizen’s arrest
BRUNSWICK, Ga. – A Hinesville district attorney on Tuesday recommended that a grand jury review the fatal February shooting death of 25-year-old Ahmaud Arbery, who friends say was killed while jogging in a suburban Brunswick neighborhood.
The recommendation came on the same day that graphic cellphone video purportedly showing the deadly confrontation between Arbery and Travis McMichael, the son of a former district attorney investigator, was posted by a Georgia radio station and circulated widely on social media sites.
“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,” Tom Durden, District Attorney Pro Tempore for the Brunswick Judicial Circuit, wrote in a press release.
Durden, who started investigating the incident on April 13, said he came to the conclusion after careful review of the evidence in conjunction with the Glynn County Police Department, the FBI and the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Georgia.
No one disputes that McMichael, son of Brunswick District Attorney’s Office investigator Greg McMichael, shot and killed Arbery on Feb. 23, but he was not immediately charged because Travis McMichael claimed he was acting within the scope of a citizen’s arrest.
Arbery’s family says deadly force wasn’t necessary and they simply want to know the truth.
Brunswick radio station WGIG published the “graphic, disturbing” video that reportedly shows the incident on Tuesday afternoon.
“This was given to us by an anonymous source," the radio station wrote in a post on its website. "We debated whether to put it out, but determined it was in the best interest of the public.”
News4Jax reviewed the 30-second cellphone video before it was removed from the radio station’s website.
(Editor’s Note: News4Jax made the editorial decision not to show the video in its entirety due to the graphic nature of its contents)
The video, which seems to have been recorded by someone driving behind the vehicle, appears to show Arbery running on Satilla Drive towards a white truck that is stopped in the middle of the street.
Travis McMichael, who appears to be standing outside the parked truck, and Arbery then become engaged in a struggle over what looks to be a shotgun.
The gunshots can be heard on the video within a seven-second span. Arbery is seen trying to run away before falling to the ground with bloodstains on his white shirt.
It’s not clear in the video who fired the fatal shots, but the shooter’s father told police that Travis McMichael fired two shots, killing Arbery.
Greg McMichael, who can be seen in the video standing in the back of the truck, called 911 at 1:08 p.m.
Greg McMichael: “I’m out here at Satilla Shores and there’s a black man running down the street."
911 dispatcher: “I just need to know what he was doing wrong, was he just on the premises and not supposed to be?”
Greg McMichael: “And he’s been caught on the camera a bunch before at night. It’s an ongoing thing out here.”
McMichael later told police he suspected that Arbery was burglarizing houses under construction in the Brunswick neighborhood.
According to the police report, McMichael was calling for his son who “grabbed his shotgun because they didn’t know if the male was armed or not.”
Police were told the elder McMichael armed himself with his .357 handgun and the two followed Arbery for two blocks before, according to the report, McMichael shouted: “Stop, stop we want to talk to you.”
They told investigators they pulled up next to Arbery and the former investigator’s son “exited the truck with a shotgun.”
Greg McMichael told police Arbery then “violently attacked his son, and the two men started fighting over the shotgun." Travis McMichael fired two shots, killing Arbery, they told police.
Police said the McMichaels rolled Arbery over to see if he had a weapon, but no weapon was found.
Jason Vaughn, Ahmaud’s former football coach at Brunswick High School, suspects his shooting was a case of mistaken identity.
“People are known for jogging in that area all the time and we all know Maud likes to jog the area,” Vaughan said last week. “He would stop and, sometimes in the middle of his workout, he’d play basketball with the younger kids and at the game, he’d go back to jogging. That’s the kind of person he was.”
A former prosecutor who had examined Arbery’s case told police the McMichaels acted within the scope of Georgia’s citizen arrest statute and that Travis McMichael fired his weapon in self-defense.
The Georiga NAACP on Monday said that Glynn County District Attorney Jackie Johnson should have arrested Travis and Gregory McMichael for murder and called for her resignation.
“District Attorneys are elected to pursue justice - not engage in judicial malpractice,” the NAACP tweeted.
Jacksonville attorney John Phillips, who has a history of handling civil rights cases, told News4Jax on Tuesday that a person has every right to jog along the street and has every right to ignore somebody yelling commands for them to stop.
"He was minding his own business going for a jog and one or two good ole boys with some level of law-enforcement influence, in their mind, stop the truck started the encounter with a shotgun...and the young man tries to stop an unlawful attack on him and he gets killed for it,” Phillips said. ”That is disturbing and that needs to be resolved in detention until the trial. You’re certainly innocent until proven guilty, but that seems to be to me, in my opinion, a despicable act of homicide if not again manslaughter or murder, that’s a criminal act.”
Phillips said he’s concerned, that state attorneys didn’t intend on prosecuting until the video surfaced.
"That’s what it smells like is up to me is that there is just an intent not to prosecute these guys and they need to be prosecuted whether that’s by a grand jury indictment or filing charges right now under Georgia law and get in the indictment later for the higher charges they have those options available to them,“ he said.
In cases like this in Florida, Phillips said outside agencies like FDLE would take over the investigation to eliminate any bias that might exist. Right now the case in the hands of Durden, who last week told News4Jax that he needed to verify some things before moving forward.
Jackie Johnson should have immediately had Travis and Gregory McMichael arrested for murder. District Attorneys are elected to pursue justice - not engage in judicial malpractice.— Georgia NAACP (@Georgia_NAACP) May 4, 2020
Call (912)554-7200 and demand she resign now. #NotForgotten #GaPol #IRunWithMaud pic.twitter.com/k1jtluXnIP
Arbery’s family has hired civil rights attorney Lee Merritt, who has not yet returned our calls. The family has also created a Facebook page called “I run with Maud."
Because of the shooter’s family connection with Glynn County law enforcement officials, the homicide case was first transferred to Ware County and then transferred to the Hinesville District for the same reason.
The Georgia Bureau of Investigation on Tuesday tweeted that the Glynn County Police Department requested that its Kingsland office investigate the public release of the video related to the shooting death of Arbery as well as allegations of threats against people involved in the investigation.
Both investigations are active and ongoing, GBI said.
On Tuesday evening, more than 100 protesters carrying signs and offering prayers walked in the Satilla Shores neighborhood, the same neighborhood where Arbery was shot and killed in February.
During the peaceful protest, Glynn County Sheriff Neal Jump made his way to the middle of the crowd and expressed his frustration with the investigation.
“Am I upset that it has taken this long for a verdict or the justice part to come? As the Sheriff I am upset,” Neal said. “It shouldn’t have taken that long. If that was my son, I’d be upset. I can only imagine what the mother and dad is going through.”
Copyright 2020 by WJXT News4Jax - All rights reserved.