BRUNSWICK, GA — The fatal shooting of an unarmed black man who was jogging through his coastal Georgia neighborhood earlier this year will go to a grand jury, a local prosecutor said Tuesday after reviewing a widely circulated video showing the shooting.
Ahmaud Arbery, 25, was jogging through his Satilla Shores neighborhood in Brunswick around 1 p.m. Feb. 23 when he was chased down and killed by two white men, his family said. Neither of the men, identified as former police officer Gregory McMichael, 64, and his 34-year-old son, Travis, were charged after the shooting.
“After careful review of the evidence, I am of the opinion that the case should be presented to the grand jury of Glynn County for consideration of criminal charges,” Tom Durden, a prosecutor for Georgia’s Atlantic Judicial Circuit, wrote in a statement.
It’s unclear when the grand jury will consider the evidence amid closures due to the coronavirus pandemic, but the freeze on empaneling grand juries will last until at least June 12.
Gregory McMichael told the Glynn County Police Department, where he had been a police officer for several years, that he suspected Arbery of robbery, according to the New Brunswick News.
Graphic video of the confrontation, shot from inside a vehicle, shows Arbery jogging when he came upon a white truck. The younger man was standing beside an open driver’s-side door as the older man stood in the bed, armed with a pistol. In a confrontation with the younger man, three shotgun blasts were heard and Arbery stumbled to the pavement.
He was pronounced dead at the scene.
“This is murder,” S. Lee Merritt, the Arbery family’s attorney, said in a statement. “The series of events captured in this video confirm what all the evidence indicated prior to its release.”
In a tweet, Merritt said the video shows Arbery was targeted “solely because of his race.”
Merritt also said the U.S. Justice Department should investigate Arbery’s death as a hate crime.
Gregory McMichael told police he thought Arbery looked like a suspect in a series of burglaries in the area, so he and his son armed themselves and began chasing him in the pickup truck, The New York Times reported.
Civil rights activists and others have condemned the shooting in a case that has been simmering for months.
“We are deeply troubled by the senseless violence against black life in this country,” the Georgia NAACP said in a statement last week encouraging the district attorney’s office to empanel the grand jury. “Instead of preparing to celebrate his 26th birthday alive, Ahmaud is being remembered as the latest victim of racial terrorism.”
Andrea Young, the executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Georgia, said in a statement that Arbery was killed for being a black man “running through the wrong neighborhood at the wrong time.”
“The vigilante behavior that we saw in Brunswick is unacceptable in a civilized society,” Young said. “We call on the officials in Brunswick to enforce the rule of law so that it can be safe for citizens to walk the streets.”
Young also noted in her statement that Arbery was killed three days before the anniversary of the 2012 killing of Trayvon Martin in Florida.
“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,” Young said.
Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp, a Republican, tweeted the state’s Bureau of Investigation has offered resources to Durden for his probe of the fatal shooting and wrote that “Georgians deserve answers.”
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Georgia Attorney General Chris Carr, also a Republican, spoke out as well.
“Based on the video footage and news reports that I have seen, I am deeply concerned with the events surrounding the shooting of Ahmaud Arbery,” Carr said in a statement. “I expect justice to be carried out as swiftly as possible.”
Former Vice President Joe Biden, the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, tweeted “the video is clear: Ahmaud Arbery was killed in cold blood.”
“My heart goes out to his family, who deserve justice and deserve it now,” Biden wrote. “It is time for a swift, full and transparent investigation into his murder.”
Durden is the third prosecutor to handle the case.
Jackie Johnson, the district attorney for Glynn County, recused herself from the case because Gregory McMichael had worked as an investigator in her office before retiring a year ago.
George Barnhill, the first outside prosecutor on the case, stepped aside in mid-April at the urging of Arbery’s family. Barnhill has a son who works as an assistant prosecutor for Johnson.
Barnhill, of the Waycross Judicial District, had told police there wasn’t enough evidence to prosecute the men and they had acted legally under Georgia’s citizen arrest and self-defense statutes, The Times reported.
Wanda Cooper Jones, Arbery’s mother, hasn’t watched the video.
“I saw my son come into the world,” Jones told The Associated Press. “And seeing him leave the world, it’s not something that I’ll want to see ever.”
Jones told CBS news, though, that it proves her son “was not committing a crime.”
“He was out for his daily jog, and he was hunted down like an animal and killed.”
She added, “I’m hoping that all involved, they’re indicted, and they go to jail.”