Probable cause “clear” in Ahmaud Arbery case, authorities say

The Georgia Bureau of Investigation held a press conference on Friday to discuss its murder investigation of Ahmaud Arbery, a 25-year-old black man who was shot while jogging in Brunswick, Georgia. The bureau arrested a father and son on Thursday, charging them with Arbery’s murder and aggravated assault.  

Although the murder took place in February, the bureau only became involved late Tuesday evening, according to GBI Director Vic Reynolds. 

Reynolds said Friday that “probable cause was clear to our agents pretty quickly.”

“Please understand that although there was an investigation conducted by the Glynn County Police Department at the time of the incident over two months ago, the GBI was not a part of that investigation,” the GBI said in a Thursday press release. “We are conducting an independent investigation and are two days into it.”

On Wednesday, cellphone video showing Gregory McMichael, 64, and his son Travis McMichael, 34, confront Arbery was released. It shows the final moments of Arbery’s life while he was jogging through the Brunswick neighborhood in February. Travis shot Arbery with a shotgun twice, and the 25-year-old collapsed, and died.

“I can tell you that there’s more than sufficient probable cause in this case for felony murder,” Reynolds said Friday. 

The director would not speak to police investigator’s work prior to GBI’s involvement, but said “in a perfect world” the bureau would have been asked to become involved in February.

The GBI was brought into the high-profile case at the request of District Attorney Tom Durden, according to a Wednesday press release from the bureau. Durden, who will be prosecuting the case, said Friday he was asked to get involved on April 14. 

He thanked the GBI for their involvement and fast response to “new developments” in the case. “We take what we’re given, and we go from there and go back and look at what has been done, and then go ahead,” he said.

“As far as the GBI’s involvement and so forth, I will say this: There were — and continue to be — some new developments in the case,” Durden said, noting that he couldn’t provide any more detail at this time. 

According to the only witness in the police report, McMichael told investigators he thought Arbery was a burglary suspect and ordered him to stop. McMichael said Arbery “violently” attacked his son, and the two fought “over the shotgun” before Travis shot him twice. At the time, no charges were filed.

Georgia Chase Deadly Shooting Gregory McMichael, left, and his son Travis McMichael, were charged on May 7, 2020 with murder in the February shooting death of Ahmaud Arbery, a 25-year-old black man they had pursued in a truck after spotting him running in their neighborhood in Brunswick, Georgia. Glynn County Detention Center via AP

McMichael is a former law enforcement officer who used to work for the local district attorney. Due to conflicts of interest, the case is now on its third prosecutor, Durden. He reiterated his plan on Friday to have a grand jury bring charges, but said it “could perhaps go to trial.” The case could be delayed for at least a month, as Georgia courts remain closed due to the coronavirus.

Reynolds noted there is no hate crime in Georgia. Durden said that “what some would say is an applicable law is, is an opinion. The law will come from the court.”

Video of Arbery’s death sparked condemnation across the country. Former Georgia congresswoman Stacey Abrams wrote on Twitter that Georgia NAACP “lifted up” Arbery and his family’s struggle for action in the case. “We must not look away,” she wrote. 

LeBron James tweeted: “We’re literally hunted EVERYDAY/EVERYTIME we step foot outside the comfort of our homes! Can’t even go for a damn jog man! Like WTF man are you kidding me?!?!?!?!?!? No man fr ARE YOU KIDDING ME!!!!! I’m sorry Ahmaud (Rest In Paradise) and my prayers and blessings sent to the… heavens above to your family.” 

Reynolds addressed the public’s outrage on Friday, saying: “Regardless of the amount of social media, regardless of the amount of mainstream media attention, regardless of the emotion, regardless of supposed timeline, none of that matters to the GBI. It doesn’t matter who the person is, it doesn’t matter who the victim is, it doesn’t matter who potential defendants are. All that matters is what the facts tell us.”

“We applied the law to the facts in this case and came up pretty quickly with a solid belief that there is sufficient probable cause to charge the McMichaels with felony murder and aggravated assault,” he said. “I can tell you that if we didn’t believe it, we wouldn’t have arrested them. If we believe it then we’re going to put the bracelets on them, and that’s exactly what we did.”

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