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Georgia shooting case will go to grand jury as disturbing video surfaces online

Gregory McMichael and his son Travis were charged with the killing of Ahmaud Arbery on May 7, days after a video that appeared to show his death went viral. (Video: The Washington Post)
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A Georgia prosecutor on Tuesday said a grand jury should review the fatal shooting of 25-year-old Ahmaud Arbery, who was killed in February after being chased by two armed men who told police he looked like a burglary suspect.

The lack of charges thus far has enraged advocates across the country, who have expressed deep frustration with both the shooting of the unarmed man and how the case has been handled.

News around Arbery’s killing reverberated Tuesday after a graphic video that appeared to depict the shooting went viral on social media. Lee Merritt, the family’s attorney, shared the video Tuesday afternoon and said Arbery’s family was forced to watch for the first time online.

“Mr. Arbery had not committed any crime and there was no reason for these men to believe they had the right to stop him with weapons or to use deadly force in furtherance of their unlawful attempted stop,” Merritt wrote in a statement. “This is murder.”

By all accounts, Arbery spent much of his spare time running for exercise in the city of Brunswick, in Glynn County on Georgia’s southeast coast. That was the case Feb. 23, when Arbery was spotted jogging through his neighborhood by Gregory McMichael, who believed Arbery looked like a suspect in a spate of recent break-ins, according to a police report published by the New York Times.

Only one burglary was reported to the Glynn County Police Department in the Satilla Shores neighborhood between Jan. 1 and Feb. 23, and it involved a pistol taken from a pickup truck outside of Travis McMichael’s home, the Brunswick News reported.

McMichael, 64, called his son, Travis McMichael, 34, and they armed themselves with a handgun and shotgun, respectively, Gregory McMichael told police. They chased Arbery in a truck, according to the report, and Gregory McMichael told police that he shouted to Arbery, “Stop, stop, we want to talk to you,” before, according to their statements, they pulled up beside him in their truck. The report suggests a third person may also have been involved in the pursuit.

Travis McMichael stepped out of the truck with his shotgun, and that’s when Gregory McMichael alleges that Arbery attacked Travis McMichael and they began fighting over the shotgun, according to the police report. Travis McMichael fired twice, police said. Arbery fell face down on the pavement and died of his wounds.

Gregory McMichael didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment, and Travis McMichael’s listed number was disconnected. The county police department did not immediately return a request for comment late Tuesday.

On Tuesday, district attorney Tom Durden said in a statement that the case should be presented to a grand jury for consideration of criminal charges, the Associated Press reported. Greg McMichael previously served as a former police detective and district attorney investigator in Brunswick, documents show. The AP reported that the district attorney for Glynn County, Jackie Johnson, recused herself from this case because McMichael worked as an investigator in her office and retired last year.

In his statement, Merritt noted that grand juries in Georgia were temporarily suspended because of the coronavirus pandemic and urged that the two men be taken into custody immediately, pending their indictment. A statewide judicial emergency in Georgia was on Monday extended until June 12.

“The series of events captured in this video confirm what all the evidence indicated prior to its release,” Merritt wrote. “Mr. Arbery was pursued by three white men that targeted him solely because of his race and murdered him without justification.”

Developments in the case Tuesday prompted a forceful reaction from black leaders, some of whom called for arrests, as well as a transparent probe into the killing.

“We are grateful to see D.A. Tom Durden announce his intention to convene a grand jury in this case. However, we will not rest until the murderers of Ahmaud Arbery are behind bars,” the Georgia NAACP wrote in a statement Tuesday. “The fact that the McMichaels have yet to be arrested in this matter is evidence enough for what we all know to be true — justice for all is just not specific enough.”

Gov. Brian Kemp (R) tweeted Tuesday night that Victor Reynolds, director of the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, an independent agency that assists with criminal investigations, forensic laboratory services and criminal justice data, had offered to help the prosecutor’s office.

“Georgians deserve answers,” he wrote. “State law enforcement stands ready to ensure justice is served.” The bureau tweeted a statement earlier in the day, saying it was looking into the video leak and allegations of threats against police and others involved with the investigation. The bureau isn’t investigating the shooting, it said.

Stacey Abrams, who ran as the Democratic candidate for Georgia governor in 2018, wrote, “As more attention focuses on the troubling killing of #AhmaudArbery, our systems of law enforcement and justice must be held to the highest standards: full investigation, appropriate charges and an unbiased prosecution.”

Democratic state lawmakers questioned why the video was surfacing three months after the shooting. The video sparked unrest Tuesday, leading about 100 people to join a protest in the streets of the neighborhood where Arbery was shot. As the crowd marched toward the McMichaels’ home, they carried signs and chanted.

“I run with Maud,” one poster read. “No justice, no peace,” they shouted.

The Southern Poverty Law Center on Thursday called for a federal investigation “given local law enforcement’s failure to act,” according to a news release.

“That these people have not been charged or held to account in any way speaks volumes about the level of respect that law enforcement in Glynn County have for Black lives,” the organization’s president and CEO, Margaret Huang, wrote. “The killing of Black and brown people must stop, and it begins with each of us demanding accountability and justice.”

Arbery’s death came three days before the anniversary of the 2012 killing of Trayvon Martin in Sanford, Fla., said Andrea Young, the executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Georgia.

“Both incidents are a reminder that white supremacy has been a foundation for our country and leads repeatedly to the targeting and harming people of color, particularly African Americans,” she wrote.

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