The charges came days after a video showing the moments that led to Arbery’s death went viral, eliciting strongly worded condemnations from activists and politicians. Former vice president Joe Biden compared the incident to a lynching, and Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp (R) called the shooting “absolutely horrific.”
Two local district attorneys had recused themselves from the case before the Georgia Bureau of Investigation was brought in. The agency made the arrests the day after its investigation began.
When asked at a Friday morning news conference if the Georgia Bureau of Investigation would expand its probe to the Glynn County Police Department and the district attorney’s office, director Victor Reynolds replied, “It will only expand to what’s relevant to this murder investigation.”
Reynolds was reluctant to comment on what the Glynn County Police Department may have missed in its initial investigation of the case in February.
“I can’t answer for what another agency did or didn’t see,” Reynolds said. “But I can tell you that based on our involvement in this case — considering the fact that we hit the ground running Wednesday morning and within 36 hours we had secured warrants for two individuals for murder — I think that speaks volumes in itself.”
He also said his bureau’s investigation into the incident would include William Bryan, identified by prosecutors as the man who shot the video that shows Arbery’s killing.
Brunswick attorney Alan Tucker claimed responsibility for releasing the video, telling a local news station that he thought it would defuse tensions in the case. Before the arrests, Tucker said he had been in touch with the McMichaels, but that they had not formally retained him, according to the local report.
Reached by phone Thursday afternoon before he was arrested, Gregory McMichael said, “There are many, many facts out there that have not come to light.”
“This is all based on the video and newspaper story. All the stuff that led up to that still hasn’t been released,” he said.
He refused to comment further because the case is under investigation and also declined to comment on behalf of his son, Travis. He referred questions to Tucker, who did not return an email requesting comment.
The video shows two men approaching a young black man jogging on the street. After a brief interaction, gunshots are heard and the jogger stumbles to the ground. President Trump, speaking at an event in the Oval Office on Thursday, said he expects to get a “full report” on the incident and called the death “a very sad thing.”
According to a police report, Gregory McMichael, a retired police detective, saw Arbery jogging and believed he looked like a suspect in break-ins in the neighborhood. A local news report found only one burglary was reported to police between Jan. 1 and Feb. 23.
McMichael called his son and they armed themselves with a handgun and shotgun, respectively, according to the police report. They chased Arbery in a truck, according to the report, and 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 case has been assigned to a carousel of prosecutors, beginning with Jackie Johnson in the Brunswick Judicial Circuit, who recused herself from the case in February because Gregory McMichael was previously an investigator in her office. The case then went to George E. Barnhill, district attorney for Georgia’s Waycross Judicial Circuit, who also recused himself, after Arbery’s mother complained that Barnhill’s son used to work with McMichael in the Brunswick District Attorney’s Office, according to documents obtained by The Washington Post.
In the letter recusing himself, addressed to the Glynn County Police Department, Barnhill identified Bryan as the man who shot the video that shows Arbery’s killing and laid out an argument that the McMichaels’ and Bryan’s actions were legal under the state’s citizen’s arrest and self-defense statutes.
On Tuesday, Tom Durden — the latest district attorney to take on the case — said in a statement that it should be presented to a grand jury for consideration of criminal charges. A statewide moratorium on judicial proceedings was extended this week until June 12, meaning it could be another month before the case is heard.
At Friday’s news conference, Durden denied that public pressure pushed him to bring charges and declined to comment on Barnhill’s letter offering a potential legal defense in the case.
Durden said that if the case goes to trial, all of its legal principles will be explained by a judge.
“What someone says the applicable law is is an opinion,” Durden added. “The law still comes from the court.”
Meanwhile, protests have erupted in the town. The NAACP held a protest Wednesday and planned a demonstration at the courthouse in Brunswick on Friday.
Also Friday, Jason Vaughn, Arbery’s former football coach, is organizing a social media-based memorial where participants will post videos about their 2.23-mile runs in honor of the slain jogger. He died Feb. 23.
The killing has resurrected ever-raw wounds of violence against unarmed black Americans, which became more visible with the prevalence of cellphone cameras.
Biden, the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, spoke passionately about the incident during a virtual campaign roundtable focused on African American issues Thursday, telling participants that watching Arbery “shot down in cold blood” was like seeing him “lynched before our very eyes.”
He called the fatal shooting the latest example of the “rising pandemic of hate” in America. Biden has said it was the protests involving white supremacists in Charlottesville in 2017 — and Trump’s lack of a full-throated condemnation of them — that spurred him to run for president.
During the Obama administration, shootings of unarmed black teenagers Trayvon Martin and Michael Brown drew massive protests, sparking the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement and bringing wider attention to issues of race and justice.
Trump, who argued there were “very fine people on both sides” of the Charlottesville protests in 2017, said in the Oval Office on Thursday, “My heart goes out to the parents and the loved one of the young gentleman.”
Kemp, the governor, sought to assure Georgia residents that the state is taking the case seriously.
“Earlier this week, I watched a video depicting Mr. Arbery’s last moments alive,” he said in a statement Thursday. “It is absolutely horrific, and Georgians deserve answers.”
Georgia Democrat Lucy McBath, whose run for Congress was inspired by the death of her son, Jordan Davis — an unarmed black teenager gunned down at a gas station over his loud music — called Arbery’s killing a “murder.”
“Outrageous and unconscionable. This is murder. Full stop. We cannot continue allowing this to happen in America. I hurt for this young man’s family. We must demand justice,” she tweeted.
Other members of the state’s congressional delegation also responded to the video.
“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,” said Rep. Douglas A. Collins (R), who is running for Senate.
His opponent, Sen. Kelly Loeffler (R), tweeted: “I am deeply concerned by the death of Ahmaud Arbery, and I join Georgians across the state in calling for swift action and immediate answers. My prayers are with the Arbery family for their devastating loss.
Sen. Tim Scott (S.C.), the only black Republican U.S. senator, said it’s time for America to face some “hard truths.”
“My heart breaks for his family, and justice must be served,” Scott said in a series of tweets on the subject.