BRUNSWICK, Ga. – A video released Monday shows police in Georgia attempting to search Ahmaud Arbery’s parked car in 2017 and when he refuses and attempts to walk back to the vehicle, an officer tried to tase him.
The video, obtained from a public information request by The Guardian newspaper, shows Arbery, who was shot and killed earlier this year while running through the Satilla Shores neighborhood, questioned as he is sitting alone in his car in a park in his car.
Asked why he was being questioned, the first officer at the scene told him he was in area known for drug and gang activity. The officer asks for Arbery’s ID and pats him down.
“I’m not searching you. I’m checking you for weapons,” the officer said.
Arbery refused when the officer asked to search his Toyota. As he walks toward his vehicle he is told “don’t reach the car” and “keep your hands out your pockets.” A second officer pulls the taser and attempts to use it but it malfunctions.
“Warning, down," an officer orders. “Stay on the ground.”
When Arbery questioned why the cops are bothering him he was told that the area is known for drugs, a suggestion that agitates Arbery who said he is not on drugs and to check his “s—-!” Officers then proceed to check him for weapons while clarifying this action was not a search, but a check.
In a police report, also obtained by The Guardian, officers said Arbery, who was parked when confronted by officers, was free to go but could not take his vehicle because his license was suspended. The report said that after he left the scene they noticed Arbery’s passenger side window was open and that they smelled what they believed to be marijuana and noticed a bag with a leafy substance inside.
News4Jax crime and safety expert Ken Jefferson, who has worked in law enforcement for 24 years, said he believes the officers escalated the encounter for no reason.
“When they realized that he had no warrants, he had no probable cause for them to make an arrest, they should’ve let him go,” Jefferson said.
Arbery was killed Feb. 23 after a pursuit by a father and son who armed themselves and gave chase after seeing the 25-year-old man running in their subdivision. More than two months passed before Gregory McMichael, 64, and Travis McMichael, 34, were jailed on charges of felony murder and aggravated assault.
The attorney for Arbery’s mother, Lee Merritt, said the release of the video is an effort to shift attention from the killers to the victim.
“Ahmaud was stopped in a park minding his own business one day,” Arbery family attorney Lee Merritt said about the 2017 incident. “He was committing no crime, but for whatever reason, whoever is releasing this information, that’s where they want the focus of the media to be. We’re not going to play that game.”
The records department of the Glynn County Police Department were instructed by the Georgia Bureau of Investigation to stop distributing the 2017 video or any other video related to Ahmaud Arbery while the case is still active.
Jacksonville defense Attorney LaToya Williams Shelton says the video from three years ago is completely irrelevant to the deadly shooting under investigation now and the judge presiding over the case would likely prevent it being shown at trial.
“It’s not going to be probative in any way and it’s going to be more prejudicial,” Williams Shelton said. “You would have the jury thinking of him in a particular type of way. He’s cursing and things like that, which would probably have jurors like, ‘Oh, you know, maybe, you know,’ coming up with things in their mind about what type of attitude he had on that day when those two men approached him.”
A judge from outside Glynn County where Arbery was fatally shot has been appointed to preside over trial proceedings of the two men charged with Arbery’s murder, including one defendant with close ties to law enforcement.
Court documents filed in Glynn County show that Superior Court Judge Timothy R. Walmsley was appointed to the case after all five judges in the legal circuit where Arbery was killed recused themselves. Walmsley is based in Savannah, about 70 miles north of where the slaying occurred just outside the port city of Brunswick.
Gregory McMichael, a retired investigator for the local district attorney, told police he thought Arbery was a burglar. He said Arbery attacked his son before he was shot.
Arbery’s mother, Wanda Cooper-Jones, has said she believes her son was merely out jogging.
The delay in criminal charges and a cellphone video of the shooting leaked shortly before the May 7 arrests fueled national outrage over Arbery’s death.
Last week, defense attorneys for the McMichaels cautioned against rushing to judgment. They said they soon plan to seek a preliminary hearing from a magistrate judge in Glynn County at which new details might be revealed. They also plan to ask that the McMichaels be released from jail on bond pending trial. That decision will now fall to Walmsley.
No court hearings had been scheduled as of Monday afternoon.
Gregory McMichael worked as an investigator for the local district attorney for more than two decades before he retired last year. Attorneys for Arbery’s family and others have blamed the delay in arrests in part on the elder McMichael’s ties to local law enforcement. The McMichaels weren’t charged until after the Georgia Bureau of Investigation was brought into the case in early May.
Meanwhile, three district attorneys have passed on prosecuting the case, which now resides with the district attorney of Cobb County in metro Atlanta.