Attorney: Release of bodycam videos seeks to criminalize Ahmaud Arbery

Police release video of 2017 shoplifting arrest

GBI searching the home of Travis and Gregory McMichael; investigators won't release information.

Old police body camera videos of run-ins with Ahmaud Arbery have been released by the Glynn County Police Department -- a move that is drawing sharp criticism from attorneys who say the videos are irrelevant and seek to criminalize Arbery.

Arbery’s death was thrust into the national spotlight when cellphone video capturing the Feb. 23 fatal shooting surfaced. Within a week, state investigators with the Georgia Bureau of Investigation began an investigation into the father and son who told investigators they got their guns, got in their truck and chased Arbery, 25, throughout the neighborhood.

Gregory McMichael said he thought Arbery was a burglary suspect. More than two months after the death of Arbery, Gregory McMichael, 64, and his son, 34-year-old Travis McMichael, were jailed on charges of felony murder and aggravated assault.

More than two weeks after the two were arrested, the focus has shifted to Arbery past history with law enforcement.

Police body camera video, first obtained by The Guardian through an open records request, shows an incident in November 2017 when two officers with the Glynn County Police Department stopped Arbery and questioned him as he was sitting alone in his in a park.

The situation escalated as Arbery asked the first officer why he’s being bothered. The officer wearing the body camera said Arbery was in an area known for drug activity.

The officer searched Arbery for weapons and called for a second police officer to assist him after Arbery curses. The officer attempted to tase Arbery, but the device malfunctioned. Later, the second officer explained he attempted to tase Arbery because he didn’t know he had already been searched for weapons and that Arbery had a puffy coat on.

Arbery was told he was free to go with no charges and no citations but told he couldn’t take his car because his license was suspended.

Another video, first reported by the New York Post, shows a separate incident in December 2017 when Arbery was arrested on a shoplifting charge and handcuffed after police said he tried to steal a television from a Walmart store.

Arbery told officers at first he didn’t know what television they were talking about and later told them he had a receipt.

Atlanta-based attorney S. Lee Merritt, who is representing Arbery’s family, told reporters Tuesday that people releasing the information want the attention shifted to Arbery’s past.

“Whoever is releasing the information, that’s where they want attention to be, but we aren’t going to play that game," Merritt said.

In a statement, Merritt went on to say: “As the media begins to portray our slain brother as a ‘criminal,’ understand that ‘criminal’ is the new n*****, and in the most ravenous criminal justice system in world history, they can take virtually any of our brothers and sisters, murder them, label them criminal and then conclude their life doesn’t matter."

Latoya Williams Shelton, a Jacksonville defense attorney, believes the videos will likely be prevented from being shown to trial.

“You would have the jury thinking of him in a particular type of way,” said Shelton. “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.”

For a brief period Tuesday, the records department for Glynn County Police Department halted releasing the videos of Arbery from 2017 due to the ongoing murder investigation by the GBI. The video was already gaining traction on The Guardian’s website and on several other websites. The department resumed providing the video following additional records request after getting clarification.

About the Author:

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