What we know about the deadly shooting of Ahmaud Arbery

A memorial has sprung up at the site where Ahmaud Arbery was shot and killed. (Family photo/WJXT)

BRUNSWICK, Ga. – More than two months after Ahmaud Arbery was shot and killed while running in a neighborhood just outside Brunswick, state investigators have arrested the father and son who chased down and fatally shot the 25-year-old. The shooting was captured on the cellphone of another man who police report states was also attempting to block Arbery that Feb. 23 afternoon.

Travis McMichael, 34, and his father, Gregory McMichael, 64, were arrested and charged with murder and aggravated assault Thursday night. They were arrested 48 hours after the video was leaked to the public and the Georgia Bureau of Investigations was called to investigate the case by Hinesville District Attorney Tom Durden.

Durden is the third district attorney to handle the case after the Brunswick and Waycross DAs recused themselves from the case. The victim garnered overnight national attention when the cellphone video of the deadly shooting was anonymously released to Georgia radio station WGIG and posted to its YouTube page.

Arbery’s name has been trending on social media for days. Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp called the video “horrific” while presidential Candidate Joe Biden called the deadly shooting a “2020 style lynching.”

S. Lee Merritt, who represents the estate of Ahmaud Arbery, said the family and his law firm had previously requested the video and subsequent body camera footage mentioned in the police report, but Merritt says they didn’t see the video until it WGIG released the recording.

“After two months of desperately looking for copies of this video in this community, we found some disturbing things online. We found Mr. Greg McMichael bragging that his son was the shooter,” Merritt said. “We knew there were earlier recordings circulating, but we could never get a hold of the video.”

Brunswick attorney Alan Tucker has since admitted to releasing the video because “people had a right to know.”

Tucker says the man who recorded the video, who Merritt identified as William “Roddy” Bryan, provided the video to him.

The video Bryan reportedly recorded begins as the person recording drives on Satilla Drive and shows Arbery, dressed in a white T-shirt and running toward a truck with Gregory McMichael standing in the bed of the truck with a firearm. You hear the first shot as Arbery runs in around the truck. Arbery then begins to struggle with Travis McMichael over a shotgun gun. You hear two more shots and then see Arbery fall to the ground. as he tries to run.

The man who attorneys say recorded the video, Roddy, is also discussed in the incident report detailing the shooting.

Gregory McMichael told investigators Roddy attempted to block Arbery, but was unsuccessful, according to the incident report released by the Glynn County Police Department.

Booking photos of Gregory McMichael and his son, Travis McMichael. The two were charged with murder in the February shooting death of Ahmaud Arbery. (Glynn County Detention Center)

911 calls

In 911 calls released by the Glynn County Police Department, a man whose name was redacted told dispatchers there was a black man running down the street.

Caller: “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?”

Caller: “And he’s been caught on the camera a bunch before at night. It’s an ongoing thing out here.”

The incident report

According to the Glynn County Police Department homicide report, investigators said by the time they arrived at the intersection of Satilla and Holmes Drive, Arbery was on the ground, bleeding. A short time later he was pronounced dead.

Gregory McMichael, a retired investigator for the Brunswick District Attorneys Office told the investigator he was in his front yard when he saw the “suspect” from a string of break-ins “hauling ass” down Satilla Drive.

He told investigators he ran inside the house, called his son Travis and grabbed his .357 Magnum. He mentioned his son also grabbed a shotgun. The two told investigators they grabbed weapons because they were unsure if the man was armed or not.

McMichael said they drove their truck around the neighborhood, spotted Arbery and attempted to cut him off down the street. Gregory McMichael said he jumped into the bed of the truck and he and his son continued to follow Arbery down the street shouting for him to stop and talk to them.

The report states Travis McMichael pulled up beside Arbery and got out of the car with his shotgun.

Video shows Travis McMichael and Arbury fight over the shotgun.

The report states Travis fired a shot and then there was a second shot.

It’s important to note that on the video, you can hear three gunshots.

Two district attorneys recused from the case

The case was supposed to be under District Attorney Jackie Johnson’s jurisdiction, but Johnson recused herself in a public letter saying one of the men seen in the video of the fatal shooting pointing a gun at Arbery, Greg McMichael, is a retired investigator from her office.

McMichael had also been an investigator with the Glynn County Police Department. The same department investigating the case of Ahmaud Arbery.

The case was re-assigned to Waycross District Attorney George Barnhill, but Barnhill also had ties to the Brunswick District Attorneys office where McMichael previously worked.

Arbery’s mother, Wanda Jones-Cooper, said she discovered online the connections between Barnhill and the men being investigated for her son’s death.

“Once I learned that there was some relationships between the DA in Glynn County and Ware County. I did that just by going on the internet and looking on Facebook and finding that these people were actually friends and then I found out his son was actually working at the DA there."

In a letter to Glynn County Police Capt. Tom Jump, Barnhill said he was recusing himself from the case because Ahmaud’s mother made it clear she wanted him off the case.

“She sees a conflict in that my son works in the Brunswick District Attorney’s Office where Greg McMichael retired some time ago," Barnhill wrote before requesting that the state should assign another prosecutor to the case, adding, “I appreciate there is immediate pressure on your department as to the issue of ‘Arrest.’”

DOCUMENTS: Glynn County police report | Waycross DA George Barnhill’s letter

The Waycross district attorney’s letter

Ware County District Attorney George Barnhill did more than recuse himself from the case. He also went on to go point-by-point with why he felt Greg and Travis McMichael did not commit a crime in fatally shooting Arbery.

“It appears Travis McMichael, Greg McMichael and William Bryan were following in “hot pursuit of a burglary suspect with solid first-hand probable cause,” Barnhill wrote. “Arbery initiated the fight. ... At that point, Arbery grabbed the shotgun (that Travis McMichael was holding). Under Georgia law, McMichael was allowed to use deadly force to protect himself.”

Barnhill cited a Georgia law that allows for a citizen’s arrest “if the offense is committed in his presence or within his immediate knowledge.”

McMichaels have not provided proof that Arbery committed a crime.

“The autopsy supports the initial opinion we gave you on February 24th, 2020 at the briefing room in the Glynn County Police Department after reviewing the evidence you had at that time. We do not see grounds for an arrest of any of the three parties,” wrote Barnhill.

News4Jax submitted a records request to the Waycross District Attorney, in response Barnhill said “It would be highly improper under Georgia Law, Rules of Court, and Bar rules for us to issue any comments. Everyone needs to let the criminal justice system work. When it’s done all the evidence will be released.”

S. Lee Merritt, who is representing Arbery’s mother, is calling for the state to investigate district attorney Barnhill for prosecutorial misconduct because of his failure to disclose his potential conflicts of interests to Arbery’s family.

“Mr. Barnhill needs to be investigated. George Barnhill’s conduct of not disclosing those conflicts is prosecutorial misconduct,” said Merritt. “We are livid that he even attempted to taint this case with his rancid opinion about why this is justifiable. If you read through his opinion that is written like a poor defense attorney in a case that is indefensible. He offers opinions that he knew was designed to taint the prosecutorial community in Georgia.”

The GBI Investigation

Days before the arrest of Gregory and Travis McMichael – the GBI posted they had only been requested to investigate threats made to Glynn County police officers and people involved in the Arbery case and how the video from the February deadly shooting was released.

Later, the state law enforcement agency announced the latest district attorney to take over the case, Tom Durden, requested the GBI begin investigating the case.

“Please understand that although there was an investigation conducted by the Glynn County Police Department at the time of the incident over two months ago, the GBI was not a part of that investigation. We are conducting an independent investigation and are two days into it. Yesterday, we received the original investigative file and thoroughly reviewed it, developing a list of actions we wanted to accomplish today based on that review. We have numerous resources poured into this case to include a diverse team of seasoned investigators and supervisors from around the state. We know you want and deserve answers as quickly as possible, and we do too. So when we ask for patience knowing it’s been over two months since the incident, we do so to allow our team to complete the investigation. We know this is difficult and is not only affecting the Brunswick community, or Georgia, but the entire nation,” the agency said in a statement.

NOTE FROM GBI: If anyone has pertinent information to this case other than the video that has been released, please contact the GBI at 1-800-597-TIPS (8477) or you can submit a tip on-line (www.gbi.ga.gov\submit-tips-online). Due to the call volume, you may experience some delay but we are working through each one.

About the Author:

Kelly Wiley, an award-winning investigative reporter, joined the News4Jax I-Team in June 2019.