Investigators in the US state of Georgia said they have quickly concluded that there is sufficient evidence to file murder charges against two men accused of shooting an unarmed African American man in the coastal city of Brunswick in February.
At a Friday morning news conference, the director of the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, Vic Reynolds, said his agency was asked to get involved in the case of Ahmaud Arbery’s death on Tuesday evening and that his team “hit the ground running pretty hard Wednesday morning”.
“Probable cause was clear to our agents pretty quickly,” Reynolds said. “I’m very comfortable in telling you there’s more than sufficient probable cause in charging felony murder.”
Two men, father and son Gregory and Travis McMichael, were arrested on Thursday evening and charged with felony murder and aggravated assault in connection with the case.
A video of the killing that circulated widely earlier this week has prompted a national cry for justice across the political spectrum, with everyone from presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden to President Donald Trump chiming in on the case.
Video shows killing of Ahmaud Arbery (2:03)
In an interview on Fox News Channel on Friday morning, Trump called the video “very disturbing”.
“I looked at a picture of that young man,” Trump said of Arbery. “That looks like a really good young guy, and it’s a very disturbing situation to me. And I just, my heart goes out to the parents, and the family, and the friends.”
Trump said he trusted Georgia’s Republican governor, Brian Kemp, to see that justice is served.
Arbery’s friends and family celebrated news of the McMichaels’ arrests but expressed frustration at the long wait.
“This should have occurred the day it happened,” Akeem Baker, one of Arbery’s close friends in Brunswick, told the Associated Press news agency. “There’s no way without the video this would have occurred. I’m just glad the light’s shining very bright on this situation.”
The GBI’s Reynolds said Friday that his agency’s determination of adequate probable cause for an arrest was made by 5pm on Thursday and the McMichaels were arrested later that evening. He added that the investigation was ongoing and that further arrests are possible.
“We’re investigating everyone involved in the case, including the individual who shot the video,” Reynolds said.
Arbery, 25, was running in the predominately white neighbourhood of Satilla Shores, just outside the port city of Brunswick, Georgia on February 23.
The McMichaels told police they thought he was responsible for a series of burglaries in the area and pursued him. The McMichaels “confronted Arbery with two firearms. During the encounter, Travis McMichael shot and killed Arbery”, the GBI said in a press release
Though Arbery was killed in February, no charges were filed until the GBI arrested the McMichaels, prompting nationwide questions about the investigation into the killing.
Abery’s mother, Wanda Cooper-Jones, said in a television appearance on Thursday morning: “I think no arrests have been made because of the title he carried as a retired police officer”, referring to Gregory McMichael’s previous roles as a law enforcement officer and investigator in the Glynn County district attorney’s office. He retired last year.
The case saw two district attorneys, including the one for which Gregory worked, recuse themselves.
The men who murdered Ahmaud Arbery must be held accountable and there must justice for Ahmaud’s family. There is no doubt in my mind that Ahmaud would be alive today if he were white.
— Bernie Sanders (@BernieSanders) May 6, 2020
A special prosecutor assigned to the case, Tom Durden, said he plans to present it to a grand jury, but the ongoing coronavirus pandemic could delay that until June, or later.
Reynolds declined to answer why previous investigations by Georgia law enforcement did not result in charges being filed.
Arbery’s death caused a massive outcry for justice on social and mainstream media throughout the week, with celebrities, activists and high profile politicians expressing concern.
I’m absolutely devastated and horrified by the senseless, cold blooded, racially motivated killing of Ahmaud Arbery. #JusticeForAhmaud
— Taylor Swift (@taylorswift13) May 7, 2020
Biden called Arbery’s death a murder during an online roundtable meeting on Thursday, saying that watching the video was like seeing Arbery “lynched before our very eyes”.
Reynolds said the state’s investigation would not be swayed by political pressure or media attention.
“None of that matters to the GBI,” he said, adding that the GBI’s goal is to “apply the law to the facts”.