- The February shooting death of Ahmaud Arbery, a 25-year-old black man from Georgia, has dominated headlines in recent days.
- However, it took over two months for the white men who killed him – Gregory McMichael, and his son, Travis McMichael – to be arrested.
- The case, which has triggered outrage across the nations and calls for justice for Arbery, is now in the hands of a fourth district attorney and even prompted a Department of Justice investigation.
- Visit Insider’s homepage for more stories.
Ahmaud Arbery, a 25-year-old black man, set out for a jog in Brunsick, Georgia, one afternoon in late February.
He never made it home.
Gregory McMichael, 64, and his son, Travis McMichael, 34, both of whom are white, say they mistook Arbery for a burglary suspect. So, they grabbed two guns, hopped into their pickup truck, and pursued him. Arbery was shot during an altercation with the pair, and died of his wounds.
He was buried six days later, but the men who killed him roamed free for more than two months.
This incident was thrust into the national spotlight in early May when a video filmed by a witness, showing the gruesome footage of Arbery’s final moments, was uploaded to social media and shared widely. It has since led to the arrests of the McMichaels on felony murder and aggravated assault charges, been assigned to a fourth district attorney, and prompted widespread anger and calls for justice.
Here’s how the Arbery case unfolded.
February 11: Ahmaud Arbery gets into a scuffle with his would-be shooter, a neighbour says.
On February 11, McMichael searched a construction site near their Brunswick, Georgia neighbourhood. Diego Perez, the neighbour, who lived nearby the site, received a text from the property owner, Larry English, who said a motion-sensor had detected movement. Perez had offered to keep an eye on the unfinished house.
After arming himself, Perez approached the site, where he came across McMichael, 34, driving up in his truck.
“Travis saw him in the yard and Travis stopped. He confronted [the man] halfway into the yard. He said [the man] reached for his waistband, and Travis got spooked and went down the road,” Perez told the AJC, adding that the man in question was Arbery.
Travis McMichael then returned to the spot with his father, Gregory McMichael, who was carrying a gun and called the police, said Perez, noting that there was no evidence that Arbery had been to the construction site.
“All we knew about him was that he was the guy who kept showing up on our cameras,” Perez said. “No one knew who it was.”
Nothing was taken from the property, English told the AJC.
February 23: Ahmaud Arbery is gunned down in broad daylight.
Gregory McMichael told the responding officer, J. Brandeberry, that he first noticed Arbery because he resembled a man accused of a string of residential break-ins in the area, according to a Glynn County police report. But The Brunswick News found that only one burglary had been reported in the area from the start of 2020 to the day Arbery died. The sole item stolen was a gun from Travis McMichael’s unlocked pickup truck.
That didn’t stop the men from grabbing their guns – a .357 Magnum and a shotgun – and following Arbery just after 1 p.m. After they intercepted him, Arbery got into a scuffle with Travis McMichael.
“The two men then started fighting over the shotgun at which point Travis fired a shot and then a second later there was a second shot,” the report said.
This altercation was filmed by a witness, later identified as William Bryan.
Three shots were heard in the footage, with the last one fired point-blank before Arbery stumbled and fell facedown. He was shot by Travis McMichael.
Gregory McMichael, a former police officer and investigator with the Glynn County District Attorney’s office, told police he rolled the body over to check for a weapon.
Arbery was unarmed, but Brandeberry made a note of the blood on the senior McMichael’s hands.
Since Arbery’s death, footage has emerged of him entering the English’s residential construction site, where he stayed for a few minutes before continuing his run. Investigators are poring over this footage.
“He stopped by a property under construction where he engaged in no illegal activity and remained for only a brief period,” the family’s attorneys said in a statement. “Ahmaud did not take anything from the construction site. He did not cause any damage to the property.”
February 23-25: Jackie Johnson, the district attorney from the Brunswick Judicial Circuit, recuses herself from the Arbery case.
Jackie Johnson told the Brunswick News that she emailed State Attorney General Chris Carr on Feb. 25, recusing herself from the Arbery case due to a conflict of interest.
Gregory McMichael worked as an investigator for her office until his retirement in May 2019, a spokesman for the office told Insider.
Johnson asked Carr to transfer the case to another prosecutor. George Barnhill, the district attorney for the neighbouring Waycross Judicial Circuit, was tapped on Feb. 27, according to the Brunswick News.
“The information I had was that there was a shooting involving Greg McMichael and his son,” Johnson told the local outlet. “There seemed to be a self-defence issue, and they didn’t know whether they could make an arrest.”
However, a timeline by Glynn County’s Public Information Officer Matthew Kent relays events differently and says Johnson’s office learned of the investigation around 3:30 p.m. on February 23, per WJAX-TV.
“The DA’s office advised that there needed to be further follow up and the detectives would be contacted the following day by the DA from the Waycross Judicial Circuit. The McMichaels were deemed not to be flight risks, and officers were advised by the DA’s office that no arrests were necessary at the time,” Kent wrote, adding that Glynn County police detectives were in touch with George Barnhill, the district attorney for the neighbouring Waycross Judicial Circuit, from February 24.
The controversy has prompted calls for Johnson’s removal from office.
April 2: Barnhill, the second DA to step aside, tells police there are no ‘grounds for an arrest.’
In a letter obtained by The New York Times, Barnhill told Glynn County Police Capt. Tom Jump that Arbery’s mother did not want him in charge of the case since his son worked for Johnson.
“She sees a conflict in that my son works in the Brunswick District Attorney’ s Office where Greg McMichael retired some time ago,” he wrote. “She believes there are kinships between the parties [there are not] and has made other unfounded allegations of bias [es]. As such, I believe it is better for my office to step out and am going to recuse myself and the Assistants working for me from handling the case.”
After reviewing autopsy reports on April 1, Barnhill told Jump that there were “no grounds for an arrest.”
The McMichaels were “following, in ‘hot pursuit,’ a burglary suspect, with solid first-hand probable cause, in their neighbourhood, and asking/telling him to stop,” he wrote. “It appears their intent was to stop and hold this criminal suspect until law enforcement arrived. Under Georgia Law, this is perfectly legal.”
Barnhill’s letter also said that Georgia’s open-carry law allowed them to be armed since neither is a convicted felon. They were also in a car registered to Travis McMichael.
He detailed the altercation between Arbery and Travis McMichael, saying, “Given the fact Arbery initiated the fight, at the point Arbery grabbed the shotgun, under Georgia Law, McMichael was allowed to use deadly force to protect himself.”
According to Barnhill, there’s also a question about who fired the fatal shot.
“While we know McMichael had his finger on the trigger, we do not know who caused the firings,” he wrote.
Barnhill’s letter named a witness William Bryan as the person who filmed the video of Arbery’s killing and also refers to a conversation that he had with Glynn County police on February 24.
April 13: Arbery’s case lands on the desk of Tom Durden, a third district attorney.
A statement issued by Durden on May 5 indicated that he was assigned Arbery’s case “on or about April 13,” according to the Coastal Courier.
He went on to write: “Having neither previous knowledge of the incident nor any relationship with any investigators or witnesses, I accepted the appointment to review the case and take the action that I thought was appropriate.”
May 5: A defence attorney leaks a graphic video of Arbery’s shooting death on social media.
It was then posted on social media on May 5, where it went viral.
“It wasn’t two men with a Confederate flag in the back of a truck going down the road and shooting a jogger in the back,” Alan Tucker told the newspaper. “It got the truth out there as to what you could see. My purpose was not to exonerate them or convict them.”
When the video went public, Durden announced that he plans to present the Arbery case to a grand jury at the earliest available date once the coronavirus-related lockdown lifts, to let them decide if charges need to brought against the McMichaels.
The video spurred widespread outrage.
May 6: Arbery’s parents and attorneys held a news conference, decrying their child’s death and pushing officials to arrest the McMichaels.
Wanda Cooper-Jones recalled the police telling her that her son was shot dead by a homeowner during a home burglary.
It was only after his funeral that she came across a news article reporting that he was killed in the street, not a home or a yard,First Coast News reported. So she began to look into the circumstances of his death.
“I don’t think that I’ll ever reach the mental capacity to ever watch the video,” she said. “You know, I saw my son come in the world, and seeing him leave the world – it’s not something that I want to see, ever.”
Benjamin Crump, one of the family’s attorneys, told Insider on Wednesday that the video looked like “a hunting party.”
“We have every right to expect an arrest immediately based on the ocular proof presented in that video of his execution,” Crump said.
He added that if it were Arbery and his father who had pulled the trigger on a white jogger, they’d have been arrested on the spot.
“When we believe if this was any other citizen, especially a citizen of colour, they would have been arrested because you have an unarmed man in a jogging attack,” Crump said. “He doesn’t have any burglary outfit or burglary tools or anything like that. I mean, he’s jogging, and this guy kills them, and they just take his word for it.”
May 6: Support pours in for the Arbery family with people demanding justice on Ahmaud’s behalf.
The supermodel Padma Lakshmi tweeted the Glynn County Police Department’s phone number so people could demand that Gregory and Travis McMichael be taken into custody.
She joined a cacophony that included the voices of presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden, NBA superstar LeBron James, talk show host Ellen DeGeneres, and the star of Netflix’s “Queer Eye,” Jonathan van Ness.
A Change.org petition seeking #JusticeForAhmaud amassed hundreds of thousands of signatures.
May 7: Agents from the Georgia Bureau of Investigation arrest the McMichaels.
Around 7:45 p.m. Thursday, news broke that the GBI had taken Gregory and Travis McMichael into custody. Both men face felony murder and aggravated assault charges and were booked in the Glynn County jail.
May 8: On what would have been Arbery’s 26th birthday, supporters run 2.23 miles in recognition of the day that he died.
Support for Arbery and anger at his death sparked the #IRunWithMaud movement, with people running 2.23 miles – to mark the day he was killed – on his birthday.
“He was my baby boy that I actually had on Mother’s Day of 1994,” said his mother, Wanda Cooper-Jones. “He was the baby of the family. But that being said, Ahmaud was his sister and brother’s keeper.”
Cooper-Jones added: “His spirit was good … He was the ‘yes, ma’am’ and ‘no, ma’am’ type of fellow.”
May 8: GBI Director Vic Reynolds says, “Probable cause was clear to our agents pretty quickly.”
At a news conference on May 8, the bureau’s director, Vic Reynolds, said there was “sufficient probable cause to charge the McMichaels with felony murder and aggravated assault.”
“I can tell you that if we didn’t believe it, we wouldn’t have arrested them,” he said. “If we believe it, then we’re going to put the bracelets on them, and that’s exactly what we did yesterday evening.”
He outlined that the GBI was brought in late on May 5 by Durden and, within 36 hours, felt confident in seeking arrest warrants for the McMichaels, before nabbing them.
Reynolds said that while the police in Glynn County had gotten the investigation “to a good point,” the GBI pursued additional leads, recanvassed the neighbourhood, and interviewed more people – some for the first time.
Asked whether other arrests were pending, Reynolds said the investigation was “active” and “ongoing.”
Reynolds described the video of Arbery’s shooting as “a very important piece of evidence.”
The bureau is “investigating everybody involved in the case, including the individual who shot the video,” as well as how it was leaked, he said.
Georgia doesn’t have a hate-crime statute so the crime can’t be prosecuted as such, even though Marcus Arbery, Sr., the victim’s father, characterised it as such.
“It was a hate crime,” Marcus Arbery Sr. told First Coast News. “My young son wasn’t doing nothing – minding his own business, running and working out. And that’s a crime? To work out and run and he ain’t breaking no law? No. Time out.”
May 8: Two Glynn County commissioners accuse DA Johnson of obstructing arrests — and she fires back.
Two Glynn County commissioners – Allen Booker and Peter Murphy – accused District Attorney Jackie Johnson on May 8 of preventing police from arresting the McMichaels.
“The police at the scene went to her, saying they were ready to arrest both of them. These were the police at the scene who had done the investigation,” Booker told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “She shut them down to protect her friend [Gregory] McMichael.”
Murphy added: “They were told not to make the arrest.”
But Johnson denied the “baseless and false” claims, WJAX-TV reported. She flatly denied having conversations with police about the Arbery case, instead alleging that this was “an attempt to make excuses and ignore the problems at the Glynn County Police Department, for which they are ultimately responsible.”
May 10-11: Georgia’s attorney general taps the DOJ and GBI to probe the handling of the Arbery case.
Georgia’s Attorney General Chris Carr announced on Sunday that he had asked the Department of Justice to conduct a “complete and transparent review of how the Ahmaud Arbery case was handled from the outset,” Reuters reported.
Of particular interest are the ways Johnson, Barnhill, and the Glynn County Police Department responded to the fatal shooting.
The DOJ is reportedly considering pursuing federal hate crimes charges. The state of Georgia has no hate crime laws.
In a news release on Monday, GBI shared that Carr has asked the agency to investigate “possible prosecutorial misconduct” by the offices of Johnson and Barnhill.
May 11: A fourth district attorney is pulled into this closely-watched case.
S. Lee Merritt, one of the family’s attorneys, said on Monday that a new prosecutor – Cobb County District Attorney Joyette Holmes – has been assigned to Arbery’s case at the family’s request, First Coast News reported.
On Twitter, Merritt alleged that Atlantic Judicial Circuit District Attorney Durden “sat on the case until video of Ahmaud’s murder was leaked,” so Holmes represents a “huge WIN” in the family’s pursuit for answers. She is currently being vetted for conflicts of interest, Merritt said.
Later the same day, Carr told NBC News that the video of Arbery’s shooting left him “stunned” and “sickened.”
“When you see things like that, the first thing I thought was ‘that’s not my Georgia,'” he said. “That’s not who we are.”
“It’s important for us to find out what happened and make sure justice is done,” Carr added.
May 11: An autopsy reveals that two gunshot blasts to the chest killed Arbery.
Two shotgun wounds to the chest killed Arbery, according to an autopsy released Monday by the Georgia Bureau of Investigation’s forensic division.
He sustained fatal injuries to the upper and lower chest as well and a bullet also grazed his right wrist as he struggled with Travis McMichael for the shotgun, said the report, according to CNN affiliate WSB.
“This 25-year-old died of multiple gunshots wounds sustained during a struggle for the shotgun,” the report, dated April 1, reads.
Arbery had no alcohol or drugs in his system at the time of death, the report says.
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May 21: The man who filmed Arbery being gunned down is arrested and charged with felony murder
A third man was arrested Thursday in connection with Arbery’s death, the Georgia Bureau of Investigation announced.
The suspect, William “Roddie” Bryan Jr., had been identified by a previous district attorney, who recused himself from the case, as the man who filmed the 36-second video of Arbery’s fatal shooting.
The 50-year-old Bryan faces charges of felony murder and criminal attempt to commit false imprisonment, the GBI said in a statement. He has been taken into custody and booked into the Glynn County Jail.