In Letter, Georgia Prosecutor Said Ahmaud Arbery’s Killing Was Justified
In a letter to the Glynn County Police Department, District Attorney George E. Barnhill of the Waycross District expressed his opinion that the men involved in the shooting and death of Ahmaud Arbery should not be arrested.
McMichael said that there had been several break-ins in his neighborhood, and he thought Arbery looked like the suspect. When he saw Arbery running down the street on February 23, he asked his son Travis to accompany him in confronting Arbery.
The Times writes that according to friends, Arbery "loved" to run, and that it was common to see him running around the outskirts of town.
McMichael’s report goes on to say that he and his son brought a handgun and shotgun with them because they “didn’t know if Arbery was armed or not.”
The McMichaels got into a truck and drove in pursuit of Arbery. Gregory McMichael said that they attempted to cut Arbery off, but he ran in the other direction. They continued pursuit and shouted, “stop, stop, we want to talk to you.”
Gregory McMichael pulled up next to Arbery, and Travis stepped out of the vehicle with his shotgun.
The McMichaels claim that at that point, Arbery attacked Travis, and the two men began to fight over the gun. Travis then fired a shot, and a second later there was a second shot.
In the video, the second shot takes place while Arbery and Travis are out of the visible frame of the camera. After they reenter the visible frame, there is a third shot while Arbery and Travis are fighting. Arbery then begins to jog away from the McMichaels. After a few steps, he collapses.
Barnhill refers to Georgia state law and a video of the incident (viewer discretion is advised as it portrays the shooting event).
Barnhill claims the McMichaels had “solid first hand probable cause” that Arbery had committed burglary and so were in “hot pursuit” of him as a suspect (Barnhill places the phrase in quotation marks in his letter but does not make explicit who he is referencing). Barnhill writes, “it appears their intent was to stop and hold this criminal suspect until law enforcement could arrive. Under Georgia law, this is perfectly legal.”
Barnhill also claims that the death was a matter of justified self-defense. He claims that the video portrays Arbery instigating the skirmish with Travis McMichael and writes,
…at the point Arbery grabbed the shotgun, under Georgia Law [sic], McMichael was allowed to use deadly force to protect himself… Arbery’s mental health records and prior convictions help explain his apparent aggressive nature and his possible thought pattern to attack an armed man.
Neither McMichael has been arrested as of May 6, 2020.
Wanda Cooper, Arbery’s mother, said to First Coast News that she is “feeling very discouraged at this point.”
“I just think about how they could allow these two men to kill my son and not be arrested, that’s what I can’t understand,” she said.
Cooper’s attorney in the case, Lee Merritt, is skeptical of the McMichaels’ justification under the citizen’s arrest statute in Georgia.
Barnhill cites the statute in his letter. It reads,
a private person may arrest an offender if the offense is committed in his presence or within his immediate knowledge. If the offense is a felony and the offender is escaping or attempting to escape, a private person may arrest him upon reasonable and probable grounds of suspicion.
Merritt told First Coast, “We have no reason to believe that either actor here, Travis or Gregory observed a crime.”
Michael J. Moore, an Atlanta lawyer who formerly served as a U.S. attorney in Georgia, reviewed the police report and Barnhill’s letter at the request of the New York Times. He said, “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.”
Barnhill’s letter mentions that he is recusing himself from the case because Cooper “clearly expressed she wants myself and my office off the case” in light of alleged “kinships between the parties” and “allegations of bias.”
First Coast News also reports that “McMichael… worked several years for the Brunswick Police Department before working as an investigator in the Brunswick District Attorney’s Office.”
Barnhill’s son “works in the Brunswick District Attorney’s Office where Greg McMichael retired some time ago,” as Barnhill writes in the letter. Although he still recused himself, he asserts that there are no kinship ties and that the allegations of bias are “unfounded.”
Merritt remains concerned by the McMichaels' ties to the law enforcement community. He said to First Coast that he hopes for a " full, thorough independent investigation, preferably by the GBI [Georgia Bureau of Investigation]."
On May 6, First Coast reported that the case has been passed on to Hinesville District Attorney Tom Durden.
The Baltimore Sun writes that Arbery's only criminal record is of a shoplifting conviction and probation violation in 2018. Outside of that, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reports that The Brunswick News claims Arbery was indicted in 2013 on allegations that he took a handgun to a high school basketball game, but not that the case went any further than that.
Merritt has said that referencing "alleged conduct from high school or shoplifting is absurd and has nothing to do with [Arbery's] murder."
The Sun also writes that although Barhnill claimed Arbery “had mental health issues… he does not elaborate on this point.”
First Coast News writes that Arbery graduated from Brunswick High School in 2012 and went on to attend South Georgia Technical College. Cooper said Arbery was working toward a career as an electrician.
The Post-Gazette also reports that Ahmaud Arbery's father Marcus Arbery, Sr. said, "I just want people to know that he was a very good young man and he loved the people and I just want people to remember him as a good-hearted young man."
Marcus Arbery added, "To see him just get lynched like that by a racial mob is devastating to our family."
Watch the video here. Viewer discretion is advised.