The parents of an African-American man slain in a pursuit by two armed white men have called for the immediate arrest of those responsible instead of waiting a month or longer before a grand jury in Georgia could consider bringing charges as national outrage in the United States continued to swell.
“I think no arrests have been made because of the title he carried as a retired police officer.” Wanda Cooper-Jones, Arbery’s mother, said in an appearance on Good Morning America on Thursday.
One of the men alleged to have killed Ahmaud Arbery, Gregory McMichael, worked as an investigator in the Glynn County district attorney’s office. He retired last year.
An outside prosecutor in charge of the case said he wants a grand jury to decide whether criminal charges are warranted. That will not happen until at least mid-June, since Georgia courts remain largely closed because of the coronavirus pandemic.
George Barnhill, the district attorney for Waycross County, Georgia who has recused himself from the case, sent a letter to the Glynn County police chief in April explaining why he did not believe the incident warranted an arrest, local media Action News Jax reported.
The letter said it “appears” the intent of the men who killed Arbery “was to stop and hold this criminal suspect until law enforcement arrived”.
The men who pursued Arbery before shooting him told police they believed he had committed a recent burglary in the area.
Barnhill also said, “Arbery’s mental health and prior convictions help explain his apparent aggressive nature and his possible thought pattern to attack an armed man.”
Arbery’s prior convictions did not include any violent offenses, according to Action News Jax.
A swelling outcry over the February 23 shooting of Arbery – a former high school sports star remembered by friends and family as a kind young man – intensified this week after a mobile phone video, which lawyers for his family say shows the killing, surfaced online Tuesday.
Attorneys for Arbery’s family said the father and son shooters, who have acknowledged in a police report that they grabbed guns and pursued Arbery in a truck after seeing him running in their neighbourhood, should be arrested now instead of awaiting an indictment from a grand jury, as often happens in criminal cases.
“These men were vigilantes, they were a posse, and they performed a modern lynching in the middle of the day,” said Lee Merritt, a lawyer for Arbery’s mother.
The horrific murder of Ahmaud Arbery in Georgia is a reminder that we still do not live the truth that all are created equal. He was gunned down without regard for his humanity. The video is sickening and heartbreaking, and his family deserves justice.
— Justin Amash (@justinamash) May 6, 2020
According to an incident report filed by Glynn County police, Arbery was shot after two men spotted him running in their neighbourhood on a Sunday afternoon.
McMichael told police that he and his adult son, Travis, thought the runner matched the description of someone caught on a security camera committing a recent break-in in the neighbourhood. They armed themselves with guns before getting in a truck to pursue him.
The McMichaels said they got out of the truck holding a shotgun, and Arbery “began to violently attack”. Arbery was shot by Travis McMichael as the two men fought over the shotgun, according to the police report.
After Arbery was shot, the police report says, Gregory McMichael turned him onto his back to see if he was armed. The report does not say whether he had a weapon.
The mobile phone video, initially posted by a Brunswick radio station, shows an African-American man jogging along the left side of a road. A pickup truck is parked in the road ahead of him. One man is inside the truck’s bed, and another is standing beside the open driver’s side door.
The runner crosses the road to pass the truck on the passenger side, then crosses back in front of the truck. A gunshot sounds, and the video shows the runner grappling with a man in the street over what appears to be a shotgun or rifle.
A second shot can be heard, and the runner can be seen punching the man. A third shot is fired at point-blank range. The runner staggers a few feet and falls, face down.
Republican lawmakers Senator Kelly Loeffler and Representative Doug Collins, the ranking member of the House Judiciary Committee – who are embroiled in a bitter re-election campaign against each other – both decried the video of the attack on Thursday.
What I saw on the video is disturbing and wrong and looks like a criminal act. It must be thoroughly investigated and I can't imagine why it has taken this long to come to light. https://t.co/uFC3bhzJ8m
— Doug Collins (@CollinsforGA) May 7, 2020
Officials at the Georgia Bureau of Investigation (GBI) have assigned three supervisory-level agents to the case.
Merritt, the attorney for Arbery’s mother, said the US Department of Justice (DOJ) should also investigate the death as a hate crime.
“The FBI has said it’s assisting,” said DOJ spokesman Matt Lloyd, “and as is standard protocol, we look forward to working with them should information come to light of a potential federal violation.”
The killing has drawn calls for justice from state and national authorities across the political spectrum.
Republican Governor Brian Kemp late Tuesday threw his support behind the GBI probe. He tweeted: “Georgians deserve answers. State law enforcement stands ready to ensure justice is served.”
.@GBI_GA Director Reynolds has offered resources & manpower to D.A. Durden to ensure a thorough, independent investigation into the death of #AhmaudArbery. Georgians deserve answers. State law enforcement stands ready to ensure justice is served. https://t.co/ktLiPf7LoY
— Governor Brian P. Kemp (@GovKemp) May 6, 2020
Georgia Attorney General Chris Carr, also a Republican, spoke out as well.
“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 in a statement. “I expect justice to be carried out as swiftly as possible.”
Former US Vice President Joe Biden, the presumptive Democratic nominee for president, also weighed in. “The video is clear: Ahmaud Arbery was killed in cold blood,” Biden tweeted, referring to the death as a “murder”.
The video is clear: Ahmaud Arbery was killed in cold blood. My heart goes out to his family, who deserve justice and deserve it now. It is time for a swift, full, and transparent investigation into his murder. https://t.co/alvY5WjdHx
— Joe Biden (@JoeBiden) May 6, 2020
Jackie Johnson, the district attorney for Glynn County, recused herself from the case because Gregory McMichael worked as an investigator in her office.
George Barnhill, the first outside prosecutor on the case, stepped aside in mid-April at the urging of Arbery’s family. Barnhill has a son who works as an assistant prosecutor for Johnson.