How video can change the course of a murder investigation

Cellphone video of Ahmaud Arbery’s last moments alive went viral

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Within 48 hours of video becoming public of Ahmaud Arbery’s fatal shooting while jogging through a Satilla Shores neighborhood in February, there was a rapid cry for justice and two arrests were made.

“[The video] is a very important piece of evidence. Anytime you can see what happens at a scene then it plays an important role in decision making,” Vic Reynolds, director of the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, said during a Friday morning news conference about the arrests of Travis McMichael and his father, Gregory.

The video sparking national attention, which was leaked by Brunswick defense attorney Alan Tucker, showed the deadly confrontation between Ahmaud Arbery, who was unarmed, and the McMichaels, who both had guns, on the afternoon of Feb. 23.

VIEWER DISCRETION ADVISED: Uncut cellphone video of shooting, confrontation

News4Jax crime and safety expert Ken Jefferson said video of crimes like this one can change the landscape of a police investigation.

“This video actually helps investigators or, in this case, GBI make a determination that an arrest was necessary even though the initial prosecution, as well as the sheriff’s office of that particular county, did not make an arrest and they had this evidence,” Jefferson explained.

Jefferson said this video is very beneficial to investigators.

Arbery’s mother, Wanda Cooper-Jones, explained what a Glynn County police officer told her about how he died.

“He went on to say Ahmaud had been involved in a burglary. In the midst of the burglary, Ahmaud was confronted by the homeowner. During that confrontation there was a tussle over the handgun and Ahmaud was shot and killed,” she said.

Ahmaud Arbery with his mother, Wanda Cooper.
Ahmaud Arbery with his mother, Wanda Cooper. (Photo family shared with WJXT)

That version of what happened is different than both what was in the Glynn County police homicide report based on the shooter’s and witness reports, which was very different than what the video of the fatal encounter shows.

“It’s a very disturbing video," Jefferson said. “Then, when you recall what the police were saying initially, it totally contradicts what they said had happened.”

Within 36 hours of GBI investigating the case, state authorities arrested the father and son duo more than two months after three different South Georgia district attorneys offices had reviewed the case.

Jefferson said just as the video is key in Arbery’s case, it was also instrumental in making an arrest of a South Carolina police officer in April 2015 after a video surfaced showed the shooting and killing an unarmed black man.

Officer Michael Slager initially said he used a taser gun on Walter Scott and Scott tried to take it after a traffic stop in Charleston, but the video showed a different story.

“The video clearly shows he was running away, the police posing no threat to the officer and the officer stood there and fired and killed him in cold blood," Jefferson said. “So had it not been for that videotape, he would’ve gotten away with murder.”

Jefferson said video has often proven to show if someone is lying or embellishing what really happened.

“The ability to videotape ... is a godsend for law enforcement as well as for victims,” Jefferson said.

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