Ahmaud Arbery’s family attorney, S. Lee Merritt, says the Department of Justice is investigating the shooting death of the 25-year-old Georgia man as a hate crime.
Merritt announced the development on Monday after a meeting with U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Georgia Bobby Christine last week, reports CNN. The prominent civil rights attorney also said that the DOJ has launched a criminal probe into two district attorneys involved in the Arbery case, as well as the police department in charge of the initial investigation, according to The Guardian.
“This is a vast conspiracy at this point,” Merritt said in a video posted on TMZ on Monday. “They’re spreading the net here. They said the GBI doesn’t anticipate making any additional arrests, but the FBI very well may.”
The DOJ itself hasn’t confirmed whether it plans on charging the father and son duo who killed Arbery in February with a hate crime.
Arbery was shot and killed by Travis McMichael, 34, and his father Gregory, 64, while he was running through the Satilla Shores neighborhood outside of Brunswick, Ga., on Feb. 23. Video of Arbery from a construction site in the neighborhood showed him momentarily stopping to survey the property but didn’t appear to show him taking anything off the premises or committing any other crime.
The McMichaels armed themselves and ran Arbery down, saying they suspected him of burglarizing the home. A third person, William “Roddy” Bryan also gave chase, recording Arbery’s shooting in a video that was released earlier this month and generated international interest in the case.
On May 11, two days after the McMichaels were arrested and charged with felony murder, a spokesperson for the DOJ, Kerri Kupec, confirmed that the department’s Civil Rights Division was assessing whether hate crime charges were appropriate for the case, The Guardian reports. Georgia is among four states that don’t have hate crime laws on its books (the other three are Arkansas, South Carolina and Wyoming).
Georgia Attorney General Chris Carr also called on the DOJ to investigate how the Arbery case was handled, specifically, why the Glynn County Police Department, the Brunswick District Attorney’s office, and the Waycross District Attorney’s office declined to arrest or press charges against the McMichaels for more than two months.
Greg McMichael had recently worked as an investigator for the Brunswick DA. Before that, he worked as a Glynn County cop for seven years. Both DAs ended up recusing themselves because of their connections to the McMichaels.
In an interview with The Root, former DeKalb County DA Robert James called out how the initial investigation was conducted by local law enforcement.
“This is not just a scenario where justice means holding the people that shot Ahmaud Arbery accountable,” he said. “It’s a scenario where justice could also mean discovering whether or not there was a cover-up that was motivated by personal relationships, that was motivated by race, and whether or not people actually lied and manipulated the system.”
In addition to felony murder, the McMichaels are charged with aggravated assault. Last week, Bryan was also arrested and charged with felony murder.