Investigators who accused the two men called the evidence "extremely disturbing".
BRUNSWICK, Georgia – Georgia police officials said on Friday that there was more than enough probable cause to justify the charge of two men for murder. the fatal shot of Ahmaud Arbery.
The charges against Gregory McMichael, 64, and his son Travis McMichael, 34, came after the case was transferred to a third prosecutor and the Georgia Bureau of Investigation was called in this week to investigate.
"I can't answer what another agency saw or didn't see," Vic Reynolds of G.B.I. director, said at a news conference on Friday. "But I can tell you that, based on our involvement in this case and considering the fact that we started operating on Wednesday morning and within 36 hours we had secured warrants for two people for murder for crime, I think that says a lot for you ".
He called the video of the shooting, released this week, as compelling evidence.
"It was extremely disturbing," he said. "At the human level, it is worrying."
Arbery, a 25-year-old man, was killed after meeting with the McMichaels, who are white. Arbery was killed in Satilla Shores, a quiet, middle-class enclave about 15 minutes from downtown Brunswick and a short run from the Arbery neighborhood. A police report said the McMichaels took two guns and followed Arbery in a truck after he passed them.
The shooting took place on February 23, but the case did not receive wider attention until recently, after a video was widely shared showing the shooting. Authorities said on Friday that the video was "a very important piece" of evidence to advance criminal charges.
"I think we need to remember that our role is to do our best to remove our emotions from a case and analyze the facts," Reynolds told reporters after the news conference. “But certainly, when you see this, you are very enraged to see it. Did you put that aside and say, looking at all the evidence, is there a probable cause here?
Officials said the accusations, months after the shooting, were not motivated by increased attention across the country, with elected officials, prominent activists and celebrities weighing in and calling for action.
"We don't let that influence the decision," said Tom Durden of Georgia's Atlantic Judicial Circuit, the latest prosecutor in the case, said at a news conference on Friday. "We made the decision based on what we consider to be the applicable law and our interpretation of the evidence that was discovered."
Reynolds said the arrest warrants had been issued and the two men were arrested at home on Thursday night.
"There he goes!" Said a 911 caller. Audio and video recorded parts of the confrontation that ended Arbery's life.
Minutes before Mr. Arbery was shot, a man called the police to report that an intruder was inside a house that was under construction in the neighborhood. While on the call, the man reported that the intruder – described as a black man in a white shirt – had run out into the street.
"There he goes now!" the man, whose identity was drafted in the audio, told the dispatcher, according to 911 calls obtained by The New York Times.
Pressing the interlocutor for more information, the attendant asked what exactly the man had done. "I just need to know what he was doing wrong," she said. "Was he on the spot and shouldn't he be?"
"He's been caught on camera several times," said the man. "It's kind of a continuous thing around here."
Several minutes later, at 1:14 pm, another 911 call came in from an unidentified man who reported a "black man running down the street". Looking a little out of breath, he said he didn't know the address.
"I don't know what street we are on," said the man, before a sudden commotion in which he seemed to shout "stop!" and "Travis!" before being silent for the rest of the four-minute call.
Arbery's friends and family said they believed he was running on February 23, as he used to. Arbery was wearing a white T-shirt, khaki shorts, Nike shoes and a bandana when he was killed.
The video of the shooting, taken from inside a vehicle, shows Arbery running down a shaded two-lane residential road when he encounters a white truck, with a man standing by the driver's open door. Another man is in the truck bed.
Arbery runs around the truck and briefly disappears from view. Muffled screams can be heard before Mr. Arbery appears, fighting with the man outside the truck as three shotguns echo.
Police records show another 911 calls from the neighborhood in recent months.
When police arrived after the shooting, Gregory McMichael said Arbery looked like the suspect in a series of break-ins in the area.
Since last August, there have been at least three phone calls to the police about a man breaking into a neighborhood property, according to documents released by the Glynn County Police Department in response to a request for public records. In the weeks before the shooting, Travis McMichael had also called to report that a firearm had been stolen from his truck.
In October, an interlocutor reported that a man had been seen on a camera system on a property being built in the neighborhood. In November, the same speaker again reported something similar.
On February 11, another call was made to 911 by someone who said he caught a man breaking into a home. The interlocutor, who said he had never seen the man before, "had just chased him" and was sitting outside the house, waiting for the police to respond, in a red Ford 150 truck, to the same type of truck that Travis McMichael reported a gun. stolen from weeks before.
The identity of the caller or callers was drafted from the reports.
A local defense lawyer said he made the explosive video public. His ties to the McMichaels are not clear.
In the latest small-town policy twist in this case, a criminal defense attorney from Brunswick, Georgia, who had informally consulted the McMichaels, said he was the one who leaked video footage of the shooting.
The video, which appeared earlier this week, intensified public pressure and was cited by authorities as important evidence to support urgent charges.
The lawyer, Alan Tucker, said in a telephone interview on Friday that he received the video from the man who filmed it. He later gave the footage to a local radio station so that the public could see what had happened.
"There were two men with a Confederate flag on the back of a truck coming down the road and shooting a runner in the back," he said, citing rumors that he had fueled tensions in the community.
"He revealed the truth about what you could see," he said. "My goal was not to exonerate or condemn them."
A local television station, First Coast News, previously reported that Mr. Tucker had consulted Travis McMichael in his conversations with the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, advising him to "keep your mouth shut". On Friday, Tucker declined to comment on his conversations with the McMichaels, citing attorney privilege.
"I'm not going to tell you what I told them or what they told me," he said, using profanity to say that any conversation – if it happened, he said – was none of the public's business.
Sometimes during the interview, a woman could be heard in the background whispering suggested responses to Mr. Tucker. although NBC News that Tucker was a "family friend" of the McMichaels, a Tucker representative said late Friday afternoon that he knew the family who knew Gregory McMichael from his work at the district attorney's office.
On Friday afternoon, Tucker said it had been decided that he would not be hired as a lawyer for any of the McMichaels and that he did not represent them in any formal capacity. It was not clear whether they had any other representation. No one showed up with the McMichaels at their first appearance at court on Friday, a court official said.
At a demonstration in Georgia, community members welcomed the arrests, but said they took too long.
On Friday, Arbery would celebrate his 26th birthday. But instead, a crowd of protesters – almost all of them wearing masks – packed up in front of the Glynn County courthouse to demand justice in his death.
"I will always run with Maud," one of his aunts told the assembly on the court steps, referring to his nephew's nickname and what has become a hashtag rallying cry – #IRunWithMaud – after his death caught the eye elected officials, prominent activists and celebrities across the country.
"That could easily have been me," said another speaker, who pointed out that he was also a 26-year-old black man. "It could easily have been you."
Despite the murder charges, many in the crowd still expressed their outrage at the manipulation of the case. They noticed the time that passed at no cost.
"If this was a black man who killed a white man, they would have been arrested that night," said Karasha Jones, 54.
"You took comfort in that," she said of the arrest on Thursday, noting that it helped to alleviate some of the anger and anguish that pervaded the African-American community in Brunswick, a city of some 17,000 people on the southeast coast of Georgia. Jones lived his whole life.
"Everyone in Brunswick knows everyone, and we try to be together," she said. This included Arbery: "He was kind," she said. "He was humble."
The arrests were considered a positive step. "We are still looking for convictions, but that is a start," said Gretta Stuckey, as she stood under the mossy trees in the courtyard of the court.
Support demonstrations took place across the country on Friday.
At a time when many people cannot meet in person to meet, supporters are going for 2.23 mile races (Arbery was killed on February 23). As of Friday morning, the hashtag #IRunWithMaud had been used tens of thousands of times on Twitter, and people shared photos of themselves outside in running gear, usually alongside photos of Arbery, a fiery runner .
"We cannot protest due to the pandemic, but we can still find ways to use social media to raise awareness," said Akeem M. Baker, one of the hashtag's organizers. "And it spread like wildfire."
In Atlanta, on Friday, people ran with the #IRunWithMaud and #BlackLivesMatter plates attached to the back. But the people who ran in honor of Arbery came from all over the United States and included doctors, teachers and professional athletes.
"Happy birthday to Ahmaud Arbery," said Malcolm Jenkins, a New Orleans Saints security guard, in a video he recorded during his run on Friday. "Even if they arrested these two men, we need to make sure that they don't forget his face and that he gets his justice in court."
Fighting for "some level of justice": activists said the case highlights ongoing challenges.
For more than two months, outrage over Arbery's death struggled to gain momentum. Then, last week, national advertising and a horrible video made national news.
The case highlights what Black Lives Matter activists said they see the ongoing struggle to create systemic change. The fact that he demanded hashtags, protests and protests from celebrities and a video to be arrested is both frustrating and surprising, activists said.
"I am a 41-year-old man. I know of no other situation in which we do not have to fight and pressure and hold responsible forces to ensure that racism and racist structures are addressed," said Rashad Robinson, executive director of Color of Change, national racial justice organization.
The organization of Arbery's death was initially limited to family and friends. A Facebook page, "I run with Maud" made his first post on April 4: a smiling photo of Arbery in a brown polo shirt accompanied by the hashtag #JusticeforAhmaud. The N.A.A.C.P. in Georgia, working with the Arbery family, issued its first statement on the murder on April 28, demanding that charges be brought.
Ja´Mal Green, community organizer in Chicago, said it was good to see the demand for justice be effective, but no less frustrating because it had to go through all of this.
"We constantly have to keep fighting for some level of justice, and they constantly slap us in the face," he said. "This is disgusting. It's frustrating."
Activists said they had gained significant ground in their struggle for changes in the criminal justice system in recent years, particularly with the election of reformist prosecutors.
"It is something we have the power to change," said Alicia Garza, co-creator of the Global Black Lives Matter Network. “And the way we change is by changing the rules. Therefore, these are not individuals. It's about how departments work. It's about how decisions are made. And it is certainly 100% about the people we choose to represent us. "
Celebrities, politicians and religious leaders have influenced the case.
The details of Arbery's murder led to a wave of outrage across the country, from figures as diverse as former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr., basketball star LeBron James and Russell Moore, a prominent Convention leader Batista do Sul.
Both Georgia Republican Governor Brian Kemp and his Democratic opponent in the 2018 governor dispute, Stacey Abrams, a former minority leader in the House, expressed concern about the case on Twitter this week. Mr. Kemp wrote that "Georgians deserve answers" and Abrams wrote that "our systems of law enforcement and justice must be maintained to the highest standards".
Biden, the Democratic presidential candidate for the presidency, added to the chorus on Thursday, saying that Arbery was essentially "lynched before our eyes" and that "these cruel acts resemble the darkest chapters in our history".
The case is the latest in the United States to raise concerns about racial inequalities in the judicial system. Documents obtained by The New York Times show that a Georgia prosecutor who had the case for weeks before refusing a conflict of interest had warned the Glynn County Police Department that there was "insufficient probable cause" to issue arrest warrants for the McMichaels.
President Trump addressed Arbery's death during an appearance at Fox & Friends on Friday morning, saying that Arbery "looks like a very good young man" and that the video was "very, very disturbing".
Urging the Georgian authorities to investigate and find out what happened, he also offered support to Kemp, who won his post as governor with the help of a Trump endorsement.
"It is in the hands of the governor and I am sure he will do the right thing," said Trump. "You know, it could be something that we didn't see on the tape. There could be a lot of things, if you saw things coming out of the tape and then going back to the tape. But it was a nuisance, I mean, for those who watched it, it was certainly a disturbing video or There is no doubt about it.
The suspects have connections with the local police and three prosecutors solved the case.
Before becoming a focal point in gunfire, Gregory McMichael had a long career in law enforcement off the southern coast of Georgia and recently retired.
He worked at the Glynn County Police Department from 1982 to 1989, and until last year he spent many years as an investigator at the Brunswick district attorney's office.
Travis McMichael runs a company that offers personalized boat trips. Authorities said he fired the shots that killed Arbery.
The police report was based almost exclusively on the police interview with Gregory McMichael. Two prosecutors withdrew from the case because of professional ties to him.
The original prosecutor, George E. Barnhill, of the Georgia Waycross Judicial Circuit, noted that the McMichaels were carrying weapons legally under Georgia law. He also cited the state's prison status and self-defense status.
Barnhill argued that Arbery, who appeared unarmed, had started the fight with Travis McMichael, so McMichael was "allowed to use deadly force to protect himself".
The case was later assigned to another district attorney, Tom Durden. Amid growing anger, criticism and national attention, Durden announced this week that he would ask a grand jury from Glynn County decide whether the charges are justified. He also asked the Georgia Department of Investigation to get involved.
It was not clear on Thursday whether the McMichaels had hired legal counsel. Previously, Gregory McMichael could not be reached for comment, and Travis McMichael declined to comment, citing the investigation.
Gregory McMichael is a former officer in the Glynn County Police Department and, until his retirement last year, spent many years as an investigator in the local prosecutor's office.
Friends and family reacted to the arrests.
Akeem Baker, 26, Arbery's longtime friend who follows the case closely, said Thursday night that he felt a "hint of joy".
"But I'm still uncomfortable," he added. “It's a small victory, you know, but I feel that we still need to keep moving forward to get justice. To ensure that everyone involved is held accountable. "
S. Lee Merritt, a lawyer representing Arbery's family, said Arbery's mother, Wander Cooper, was grateful that the police made the arrests.
"She was very relieved," said Merritt. “She remained very stoic as she was throughout this process. I believe she is convinced by these men.
Jacey Fortin and Nicholas Bogel-Burroughs contributed reporting.