- Dec 12, 2018
BRUNSWICK, Ga. — Ahmaud Arbery loved to run. It was how the 25-year-old former high school football standout stayed fit, his friends said, and it was not unusual to see him running around the outskirts of the small coastal Georgia city near where he lived.
But on a Sunday afternoon in February, as Mr. Arbery ran through a suburban neighborhood of ranch houses and moss-draped oaks, he passed a man standing in his front yard, who later told the police that Mr. Arbery looked like the suspect in a string of break-ins.
According to a police report, the man, Gregory McMichael, 64, called out to his son, Travis McMichael, 34. They grabbed their weapons, a .357 magnum revolver and a shotgun, jumped into a truck and began following Mr. Arbery.
“Stop, stop,” they shouted at Mr. Arbery, “we want to talk to you.”
Moments later, after a struggle over the shotgun, Mr. Arbery was killed, shot at least twice.
No one has been charged or arrested in connection with the Feb. 23 killing. The case has received little attention beyond Brunswick, but it has raised questions in the community about racial profiling — Mr. Arbery was black, and the father and son are white — and about the interpretation of the state’s self-defense laws.
According to documents obtained by The New York Times, a prosecutor who had the case for a few weeks told the police that the pursuers had acted within the scope of Georgia’s citizen’s arrest statute, and that Travis McMichael, who held the shotgun, had acted out of self-defense...
The prosecutor who wrote the letter, George E. Barnhill, the district attorney for Georgia’s Waycross Judicial Circuit, recused himself from the case this month, after Mr. Arbery’s family complained that he had a conflict of interest. A prosecutor from another county is now in charge and will determine whether the case should be presented to a grand jury.
In his letter to the police, Mr. Barnhill, the prosecutor, noted that Mr. Arbery had a criminal past. Court records show that Mr. Arbery was convicted of shoplifting and of violating probation in 2018. Five years earlier, according to The Brunswick News, he was indicted on charges that he took a handgun to a high school basketball game.
Still, even if Mr. Arbery committed a property crime on the afternoon he was killed, activists and family members said it would not have warranted a chase by armed neighbors.
“This incident was at the least a case of overly zealous citizens that wrongfully profiled the victim without cause,” Mr. Perry wrote in an email. “These men felt justified in taking the law in their own hands.”
The police report is based almost solely upon the responding officer’s interview with Gregory McMichael, who had worked at the police department from 1982 to 1989. The responding officer describes him as a witness. According to the report, Mr. McMichael told the officer that he and his son pulled up near Mr. Arbery, that his son got out of the truck with the shotgun, and that his son and Mr. Arbery then fought over the weapon, “at which point Travis fired a shot and then a second later there was a second shot.”
Michael J. Moore, an Atlanta lawyer who formerly served as a U.S. attorney in Georgia, reviewed Mr. Barnhill’s letter to the Glynn County Police Department, as well as the initial police report, at the request of The Times. In an email, Mr. Moore called Mr. Barnhill’s opinion “flawed.”
In his view, Mr. Moore said, the McMichaels appeared to be the aggressors in the confrontation, and such aggressors were not justified in using force under Georgia’s self-defense laws. “The law does not allow a group of people to form an armed posse and chase down an unarmed person who they believe might have possibly been the perpetrator of a past crime,” Mr. Moore wrote.
Two Weapons, a Chase, a Killing and No Charges (Published 2020)
A 25-year-old man running through a Georgia neighborhood ended up dead. A prosecutor argued that the pursuers should not be arrested.