Ahmaud Arbery shooting: GBI joins investigation as video surfaces on social media

GLYNN COUNTY, Ga. — The Georgia Bureau of Investigation will join the investigation into the shooting death of an unarmed black man who was running in a southeast Georgia neighborhood.

Ahmaud Arbery, 25, was killed Feb. 23 when he was shot by a man in the Satilla Shores neighborhood near Brunswick, Georgia, according to a Glynn County police report.

The shooter, Travis McMichael, and his father, Gregory McMichael, both white, said they thought Arbery was a suspect connected to recent burglaries and that they were trying to make a citizen’s arrest when there was a struggle over a shotgun.

Arbery’s family and friends said the 25-year-old was just out for a jog and believe the shooting was racially motivated. No one has been arrested or charged in the case yet.

Newly-released video of the shooting has sparked outrage and protests.

[Watch the full video here. WARNING: Video is graphic]

Channel 2 Action News is not airing the entire video due to its graphic depiction of Arbery’s death, but family attorney S. Lee Merritt confirmed that it shows the young man running through the neighborhood that February afternoon.

In the video, a white pickup truck is stopped in the middle of the street ahead of Arbery. The 25-year-old appears to run around the truck, and seconds later, he and Travis McMichael appear to begin fighting over the shotgun.

A struggle ensued and at least three gunshots can be heard before the video shows Arbery falling to the ground. Gregory McMichael claims that Arbery violently attacked his son.

"My kid was murdered,” Arbery’s father, Marcus Arbery, told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “That’s all I can say. He ran like that every day, all his life. He ran in his neighborhood and that one too. That’s the only place he ever had a problem.”

Arbery’s mother, Wanda Cooper, said she doesn’t think she can ever watch the video.

“I don’t think I’ll ever prepare myself mentally to look at the video,” she said at a news conference Wednesday. “My son was not committing a crime. He was just jogging and his life shouldn’t have ended the way it ended. I’m just sitting here waiting and also praying that someone would come by and just help us."

Travis McMichael and his father have not been arrested or charged in connected to Arbery’s death

Origin of the video

Channel 2 Investigative Reporter Mark Winne learned Wednesday that Brunswick attorney Alan David Tucker released the video to a Brunswick radio station because he thought the public needed to see what actually happened. Tucker said he got the video from the person who owned the cellphone it was shot on.

Tucker said he anticipates McMichael will retain him if he is charged with a crime. Tucker said it is Greg McMichael who is seen in the video standing in the bed of the truck while the shots were fired and that he never fired a shot.

He said Travis McMichael was holding the shotgun and then eventually fought over the gun with Arbery. Tucker said Travis McMichael has claimed self-defense.

Tucker said he has known Greg McMichael for 30 years, both when he was a Glynn County police officer and later as a lead investigator for the Glynn County District Attorney’s office before he retired a few years ago.

Tucker said the McMichaels at the time believed Arbery had been caught on video in a house under construction. Tucker called it a “senseless death.”

“I don’t understand this one,” Tucker said.

GBI called in to investigate

The GBI announced late Tuesday that it has been requested to assist with the investigation. Late Wednesday afternoon, GBI Director Vic Reynolds appeared on a video to announce that a team of veteran agents will be investigating the shooting.

“We will bring to bear every resource and all the experience this agency has in resolving this matter,” Reynolds said.

Reynolds joined a chorus of voices weighing in on the matter.

Gov. Brian Kemp and Georgia Attorney General Chris Carr said they expect justice to be served.

“Director Reynolds has offered resources & manpower to D.A. Durden to ensure a thorough, independent investigation into the death of Ahmaud Arbery,” Kemp said in a tweet. “Georgians deserve answers. State law enforcement stands ready to ensure justice is served.”

“Based on the video footage and news reports that I have seen, I am deeply concerned with the events surrounding the shooting of Ahmaud Arbery," Carr said. "I expect justice to be carried out as swiftly as possible, and I stand ready to support GBI Director Reynolds, DA Durden and the local community.”

The case is currently being handled by Atlantic Judicial Circuit District Attorney Tom Durden, whose office is based in Liberty County.

District attorneys Jackie Johnson in Brunswick and George Barnhill in Waycross recused themselves from the case because of conflicts. Gregory McMichael previously worked as a Glynn County police officer and an investigator for the Brunswick Judicial Circuit District D.A.’s office. Barnhill has a son who works as a prosecutor in Glynn County.

Durden said he will present the case to a grand jury to decide if charges should be made. Merrit said he wants the Department of Justice to take over the case. If the DOJ doesn’t take the case, Merritt would like the state to appoint a special prosecutor.

Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms said the situation is tragic and happens too often.

“It’s a tragedy, and it’s a story we hear all too often, that men of color are targeted and that their lives are taken,” Bottoms said. “We’ve got to have very real conversations about race, about, as a country, as a whole, what our underlying biases are and how those play out?”

Grand juries are suspended in Georgia until at least July due to COVID-19.

Protesters gather at the Capitol

Channel 2′s Steve Gehlbach was at the state Capitol on Wednesday as protesters gathered to demand arrests.

Attorney Brian Ponder, who organized the protest, said he wanted to raise awareness.

“We’re going to walk and run in his spirit because that is what he was doing when he was murdered,” Ponder said.

Ponder said he learned about the case a couple of weeks ago. He studied the police report and the 911 call and wrote a letter to the Glynn County police chief demanding someone be held accountable. Ponder said it’s clear Arbery was cornered and attacked.

“It confirmed my thought that he was murdered,” Ponder said. “It’s all speculation until you see it on video, and he was certainly targeted by them. It’s very disturbing.”

Protesters met outside of Carr’s office to deliver a message to him.

“This is not OK here,” Ponder said. “I’m not just going to stand by and not say anything and be silent. It’s Ahmaud Arbery today, but could be any of us tomorrow.”

Carr has promised to present the case to the next available grand jury, but protesters are demanding action now.

“There’s no reason to wait,” Ponder said. “You don’t need a DA, a grand jury. You need to go make an arrest today.”

If not, Ponder said he will take the next demonstration straight to Glynn County.

Protesters gather in Glynn County

During a protest in the neighborhood where the shooting happened in February, Glynn County sheriff Neil Jump talked to the crowd.

“If that was my son, I’d be upset,” Jump said. “I can only imagine what the mother and dad are going through. There’s no way we’ll ever feel what the Arbery family is feeling. And we have to just think of them lift them up in prayer and let’s move forward to make sure justice is served."

Action News Jax, Channel 2 Action News’ sister station which covers Glynn County, saw protesters gather hours after the video surfaced.

Action News Jax also obtained a copy of the 911 calls. Two calls to dispatch were made that afternoon. The first one claims a man wearing clothes matching Arbery’s was breaking into a home nearby.

  • Caller: “There’s a guy in the house right now, it’s under construction.”
  • Dispatcher: “And you said someone’s breaking into it right now?”
  • Caller: “No, it’s all open. It’s under construction ... and there he goes right now.”
  • Dispatcher: “OK, what is he doing?”
  • Caller: “He is running down the street.”
  • Dispatcher: “That’s fine I will get police out there. I just need to know what he was doing wrong. Was he just on the premises and not supposed to be?”
  • Caller: “He has been caught on camera a bunch at night. It’s kind of an ongoing thing. The man building the house has got heart issues. I think he’s not going to finish it.”
  • Dispatch: “OK, that’s fine. And you said he was a male in a black T-shirt?”
  • Caller: “White T-shirt. Black guy, white T-shirt. He’s done run into the neighborhood again.”

The next 911 call:

  • Caller: “I’m out here at Satilla Shores, there’s a black male running down the street.”
  • Dispatch: “Where at Satilla Shores?”
  • Caller: “I don’t know what street we’re on. Stop! Watch that. Stop. Stop.”

The caller did not respond to dispatch after that.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, ABC News and Action News Jacksonville contributed to this report.

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