After suspects’ arrest, Georgia investigates individual who recorded video of Ahmaud Arbery shooting

A former police officer and his son were arrested. Now, authorities eye a neighbor who filmed video of the incident

By Igor Derysh

Managing Editor

Published May 8, 2020 2:05PM (EDT)

Ahmaud Arbery (I RUN WITH MAUD/Facebook)
Ahmaud Arbery (I RUN WITH MAUD/Facebook)

Georgia authorities on Thursday arrested a father and son, days after a video that appears to show the shooting of black jogger Ahmaud Arbery surfaced online. Now, the individual who filmed the incident is also under investigation. 

Former police officer Gregory McMichael, 64, and his son Travis McMichael, 34, were charged with murder and aggravated assault in the fatal shooting of the 25 year old, the Georgia Bureau of Investigation (GBI) said Thursday. The shooting took place on Feb. 23, the GBI said, but District Attorney Tom Durden did not formally request an investigation until after the video was released May 5. Both men were arrested days later.

Gregory McMichael retired last year after spending years as an investigator for the district attorney's office.

"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 agency said in a statement. "We are conducting an independent investigation and are two days into it."

GBI Director Vic Reynolds said Friday that the video was a key piece of evidence in the case. Reynolds added that William "Roddie" Bryan, a neighbor of Travis McMichael who filmed the killing, was also under investigation by the agency after Arbery's family called for his arrest.

Bryan followed the two men in "hot pursuit of Arbery," according to a memo obtained by USA Today. It is unclear how he became involved in the chase. Bryan was listed in the initial police report as a "witness."

The video recorded by Bryan was later released by criminal defense attorney Alan Tucker, who said he made it public in the interest of "absolute transparency."

"We are going to go wherever the evidence takes us," Reynolds said. "In a perfect world, we would have preferred to have been asked to become involved in February, of course."

Arbery was killed in Satilla Shores, while jogging about two miles from his home in Brunswick, Ga. Gregory McMichael told police that he believed Arbery was a burglary suspect, so he and his son pursued him with their firearms. The men alleged that Arbery attacked them after Travis McMichael exited their vehicle with a shotgun.

The police report described Gregory McMichael as a "witness" and Arbery as a "suspect."

The Glynn County Police Department revealed Thursday that it had no reports of any burglaries in the area between Jan. 1 and Feb. 23.

The video shows Arbery running before encountering the McMichaels' truck. Arbery ran around the truck before getting into a physical altercation with Travis McMichael. Three shotgun blasts ring out, and Arbery falls to the ground.

The video raised questions about the handling of the case. Documents obtained by The New York Times showed that prosecutor George Barnhill recused himself from the case after telling police there was "insufficient probable cause" to arrest the McMichaels. He argued that the two men were legally armed and cited the state's citizen's arrest and self-defense statutes.

Barnhill argued that Arbery, who is said to have been unarmed, started the physical altercation, and therefore McMichael was "allowed to use deadly force to protect himself."

Arbery family attorney S. Lee Merritt said Wander Cooper, the victim's mother, was "very relieved" following Thursday's arrest.

"She remained very stoic as she has during this entire process," he told The Times. "I believe that she is holding out for a conviction for these men."

Akeem Baker, Arbery's longtime friend, added that he felt an "ounce of joy" following the arrests.

"But I'm still uneasy," he said. "It's a small win, you know, but I feel like we still got to continue to push forward to get justice. To make sure everybody involved are held accountable."

The arrests came after lawmakers on both sides of the aisle expressed concern about the handling of the case.

"Georgians deserve answers," Gov. Brian Kemp, a Republican, said.

Kemp's former Democratic rival, Stacey Abrams, said that "our systems of law enforcement and justice must be held to the highest standards" and called for a "full investigation, appropriate charges and an unbiased prosecution."

Former Vice President Joe Biden called the shooting a "grave injustice" during a virtual roundtable Thursday with black lawmakers in Florida.

"This family and the country deserves justice, and they deserve it now. They deserve a transparent investigation of this brutal murder," he said. "But our nation deserves it, as well. We need to reckon with this. This goes on. These vicious acts call to mind the darkest chapters of our history."

President Donald Trump told Fox News on Friday that the shooting was "very disturbing."

"So I saw the tape, and it's very, very disturbing, the tape. I got to see it. It's very disturbing. I looked at a picture of that young man," he said. "He was in a tuxedo, and — in fact, he put it up. And I will say that that looks like a really good, young guy."

By Igor Derysh

Igor Derysh is Salon's managing editor. His work has also appeared in the Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, Boston Herald and Baltimore Sun.

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Aggregate Ahmaud Arbery Brian Kemp Donald Trump Georgia Joe Biden Stacey Abrams