Newly surfaced surveillance video showing Ahmaud Arbery at a construction site shortly before he was fatally shot confirms there was no reason for him to be pursued as a burglary suspect, Arbery’s family attorneys say.
The video was recorded just minutes before Arbery was ambushed by Greg and Travis McMichael, a white father and son who confronted Arbery while he was running through a neighborhood just a couple miles from his home in Southeast Georgia on Feb. 23. Travis McMichael, armed with a rifle, got into a violent confrontation with Arbery, fatally shooting the unarmed 25-year-old three times. The McMichaels told police they believed Arbery was responsible for a series of break-ins in the neighborhood.
The video shows Arbery wandering into a home construction site at the Satilla Shores neighborhood. Arbery can be seen standing still for a few moments surveying the property. As Arbery’s family attorneys noted in a statement shared Saturday, Arbery was at the site for less than three minutes and did not appear to cause damage to the property or take anything from the site.
“This video is consistent with the evidence already known to us,” Attorneys Ben Crump, Lee Merritt, and Chris Stewart wrote in a joint statement, adding that Arbery committed no crime at the property and left on his own accord.
“Ahmaud’s actions at this empty home under construction were in no way a felony under Georgia law,” they wrote. “This video confirms that Mr. Arbery’s murder was not justified and the actions of the men who pursued him and ambushed him were unjustified.”
The video was reviewed by the Georgia Bureau of Investigation before the department arrested and charged the McMichaels with murder and aggravated assault. It’s currently being used by the department in their investigation to establish a timeline of Arbery’s killing. The visit to the site could be a pivotal piece of evidence, as it was also referenced by one of the McMichaels in a 911 call placed prior to shooting Arbery.
From USA Today, which obtained a copy of the 911 call:
“And you said someone’s breaking into it right now?” the 911 operator asked.
“No, it’s all open, it’s under construction. And he’s running right now, there he goes right now,” the caller said.
The 911 operator later says she is sending police to the scene but “I just need to know what he was doing wrong.”
Georgia’s attorney general asked for federal help in investigating Arbery’s shooting on Sunday, as an international outcry against the unarmed black man’s killing has many wondering why it took Georgia authorities more than two months to charge the McMichaels with a crime.
For weeks, the Arbery case bounced between three different district attorneys. As the Washington Post reports, it first went to Jackie Johnson in the Brunswick Judicial Circuit, before she recused herself because Gregory McMichael had, until recently, worked in her office as an investigator. He also worked as a cop with the Glynn County Police for seven years; that department was involved in investigating Arbery’s shooting.
The case then went on to district attorney George Barnhill of the Waycross Judicial Circuit, who recused himself only after Arbery’s mother complained that Barnhill’s son used to work with McMichael at the Brunswick DA’s office. Before passing on the case, Barnhill wrote that there was “insufficient probable cause” to charge the McMichaels with a crime, stating that the pair were within their rights under the state’s citizen arrest and self-defense statutes.
Attorney General Chris Carr asked the Department of Justice to review how the different local departments handled their investigations into Arbery’s killing.
“We are committed to a complete and transparent review of how the Ahmaud Arbery case was handled from the outset,” Carr said in a statement Sunday. “The family, the community and the state of Georgia deserve answers, and we will work with others in law enforcement at the state and federal level to find those answers.”
The move was welcomed by attorney Lee Merritt.
“We have requested the involvement of the DOJ since we first took this case,” Merritt wrote in a statement shared the Post. “There are far too many questions about how this case was handled and why it took 74 days for two of the killers to be arrested and charged in Mr. Arbery’s death.”
The abrupt change in how Arbery’s death was handled has been widely credited to the release of video of his killing, which was viewed millions of times over the last week and provoked tens of thousands of people to respond in support of Arbery and his family.
President Donald Trump called the footage “very, very disturbing,” while former Vice President Joseph Biden, the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, declared Arbery was “killed in cold blood.”
A local criminal defense lawyer came forward and took responsibility for leaking the video, which was first posted online by Georgia radio station WGIG Tuesday afternoon. Attorney Alan Tucker told the New York Times on Friday he obtained the cell phone footage of Arbery’s killing directly from the man who shot it, believed to be mechanic Roddie Bryan, who lives in the Satilla Shores neighborhood.
Tucker had hoped to defuse tensions by sharing the video, he told the Times:
Asked why he had leaked the video, Mr. Tucker said he had wanted to dispel rumors that he said had fueled tension in the community. “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,” Mr. Tucker said.
“It got the truth out there as to what you could see,” he added. “My purpose was not to exonerate them or convict them.”
Since the video’s release, many have paid tribute to the slain jogger online, calling his death a modern-day lynching and comparing it to the 2012 killing of Trayvon Martin, an unarmed Florida teenager who was shot and killed by a neighborhood vigilante, George Zimmerman.
Over the weekend, thousands of people around the world honored Arbery on what would have been his 26th birthday, using the hashtag #IRunWithMaud and running 2.23 miles—a nod to the date Arbery was killed—in remembrance of the former football player.
The swell of support helped buoy some of those who knew Arbery best, including his former football coach at Brunswick High School, Jason Vaughn.
“This is going to be great when I talk to the family today to show just these positive videos,” Vaughn told CNN about the #IRunWithMaud posts. “It’s so awesome that everybody came together to stand behind this family and support this family during this difficult time.”