SAVANNAH, Ga. – Georgia authorities arrested a father and son Thursday night and charged them with murder in the February shooting death of a man they had pursued in a truck after spotting him running in their neighborhood.
The charges came more than two months after Ahmaud Arbery, 25, was killed on a residential street just outside the port city of Brunswick. National outrage over the case swelled this week after cellphone video that appeared to show the shooting was released online.
Georgia Bureau of Investigation Director Vic Reynolds said his agency was asked Tuesday night to look into the deadly shooting and he appreciated the patience given to his agents by a community that’s “emotionally worn pretty thin right now.”
Speaking at a Friday news conference, Reynolds said he can’t speak to why the McMichaels hadn’t been charged by police before.
“I can’t answer what another agency did or didn’t see," Reynolds said. "But I can tell you that, based on our involvement in the case, considering the fact that we hit the ground running Wednesday morning and within 36 hours we had secured warrants for two individuals for felony murder -- I think that speaks volumes for itself in that probable cause was clear to our agents pretty quickly.”
Watch Friday morning’s GBI news conference on the Ahmaud Arbery case below:
Reynolds said that his agents don’t consider the national attention the case has gotten or even who the people are who are involved in the case. They look just at the facts and then apply the law to those facts, he said.
“If the law says what the facts are is felony murder, then we take the warrant for it. I’m very comfortable in telling you that there’s more than sufficient probable cause in this case for felony murder,” Reynolds said. “If we didn’t believe it, we wouldn’t have arrested them. If we believe it, then we’re going to put the bracelets on them, and that’s exactly what we did yesterday evening.”
Those close to Arbery celebrated the news of the McMichaels’ arrest but also expressed frustration at the long wait.
“This should have occurred the day it happened,” said Akeem Baker, one of Arbery’s close friends in Brunswick. “There’s no way without the video this would have occurred. I’m just glad the light’s shining very bright on this situation.”
Reynolds admitted that “in a perfect world” his agency would have been brought in to investigate the case earlier when there was still an active crime scene.
Gregory McMichael, 64, previously told police that he and his son chased after Arbery because they suspected him of being a burglar. Arbery’s mother, Wanda Cooper Jones, has said she thinks her son, a former football player, was just jogging in the Satilla Shores neighborhood before he was killed on a Sunday afternoon.
Benjamin Crump, an attorney for the slain man's father, Marcus Arbery, said it was outrageous that it took so long for arrests to be made.
“This is the first step to justice,” Crump said in a statement. "This murderous father and son duo took the law into their own hands. It’s a travesty of justice that they enjoyed their freedom for 74 days after taking the life of a young black man who was simply jogging.”
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GBI announced the arrests the day after it began its own investigation at the request of an outside prosecutor. The agency said in a news release that Gregory McMichael and his 34-year-old son, Travis McMichael, had both been jailed on charges of murder and aggravated assault.
The GBI news release said the McMichaels “confronted Arbery with two firearms. During the encounter, Travis McMichael shot and killed Arbery.” No other details were immediately released.
It was not immediately known whether either of the McMichaels had an attorney who could comment on the charges.
Gregory McMichael served as an investigator for Glynn County District Attorney Jackie Johnson. He retired last year. The connection caused Johnson to recuse herself from the case.
At a news conference before the arrests were announced Thursday, Republican Gov. Brian Kemp told reporters he was confident state investigators would “find the truth.”
“Earlier this week, I watched the video depicting Mr. Arbery’s last moments alive,” Kemp told a news conference in Atlanta. “I can tell you it’s absolutely horrific, and Georgians deserve answers.”
Gregory McMichael told police he suspected the runner was the same man filmed by a security camera committing a break-in. He and his grown son, Travis McMichael, grabbed guns and began a pursuit in the truck.
The video shows a black man running at a jogging pace on the left side of a road. A truck is parked in the road ahead of him. One of the white men is inside the pickup’s bed. The other is standing beside the open driver’s side door.
The runner crosses the road to pass the pickup on the passenger side, then crosses back in front of the truck. A gunshot sounds, and the video shows the runner grappling with a man in the street over what appears to be a shotgun or rifle. A second shot can be heard, and the runner can be seen punching the man. A third shot is fired at point-blank range. The runner staggers a few feet and falls face down.
Brunswick defense attorney Alan Tucker identified himself Thursday as the person who shared the video with the radio station. In a statement, Tucker said he wasn’t representing anyone involved in the case. He said he released the video “because my community was being ripped apart by erroneous accusations and assumptions.”
Tucker told News4Jax the video was given to him by the person who shot it. According to attorneys for Arbery’s family, that person is William “Roddy” Bryan, who is listed as a witness in the police report about the deadly shooting.
Reynolds said everyone involved in the case, including the person who shot the video, is being investigated by the GBI.
The outcry over the killing reached the White House, where President Donald Trump offered condolences Thursday to Arbery’s family.
“It’s a very sad thing,” Trump said in the Oval Office, “but I will be given a full report this evening.”
Presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden has called Arbery’s death a “murder.” During an online roundtable Thursday, Biden compared the video to seeing Arbery “lynched before our very eyes.”
The outside prosecutor overseeing the case, Tom Durden, had said Monday that he wanted a grand jury to decide whether charges are warranted. Georgia courts are still largely closed because of the coronavirus.