Georgia’s attorney general asked federal prosecutors on Sunday to investigate local law enforcement’s response to the fatal shooting of an unarmed black man who authorities say was slain by a white ex-police officer and his son as the victim jogged through a small town.
The case, in which the suspects were arrested more than two months after the shooting and days after a videotape of the killing was made public, touched off a furor in the southeastern Georgia community of Brunswick and among civil rights activists nationwide.
Gregory McMichael, 64, and his son Travis, 34, were taken into custody on Thursday by the Georgia Bureau of Investigation and charged with aggravated assault and murder in the Feb. 23 killing of Ahmaud Arbery, 25, in Brunswick, about 300 miles (480 km) southeast of Atlanta.
State Attorney General Chris Carr said in a statement he asked the U.S. Justice Department to open a probe into how the case was handled by two local prosecutors – district attorneys for the Brunswick and Waycross judicial circuits – and the Glynn County Police Department.
According to Carr, both prosecutors ended up recusing themselves from the investigation, one of them, the Waycross district attorney, after providing police with a written opinion that no arrests should be made.
That opinion, Carr said, was issued a day after the shooting but before the Waycross district attorney had been appointed to the case.
Video of the shooting captured by a witness in a vehicle near the scene shows Arbery jogging down a narrow two-lane road and around the McMichaels’ pickup truck, stopped in the right lane with the driver’s door open.
As Arbery crosses back in front of the truck, a gunshot is fired. Arbery is then seen struggling with a man holding a rifle as a second man stands in the bed of the truck brandishing a pistol. Two more shots are heard before Arbery stumbles and falls face down onto the asphalt. The GBI said it was Travis McMichael who fired the fatal round.
According to a police report obtained by the New York Times, Gregory McMichael, a former Glynn County police officer and district attorney’s investigator, told detectives the incident began when he spotted Arbery from his front yard running down the street.
The elder McMichael told police that because he suspected Arbery in a string of recent neighborhood break-ins, he and his son gave chase in the truck, with Gregory McMichael carrying a .357 Magnum revolver and Travis armed with a shotgun.
Gregory McMichael said Arbery began to attack his son, fighting him for the shotgun, prompting the son to open fire.
According to a letter obtained by the Times, prosecutors argued there was not probable cause to arrest the McMichaels because they were legally carrying firearms and had a right to pursue a burglary suspect and use deadly force to protect themselves.
Civil rights advocates pointed to the incident as the latest case of white perpetrators killing a black man and going unpunished.
In his statement asking for a federal investigation, Carr said the Brunswick district attorney had divulged in a recusal request that he had a son employed in the district attorney’s office who had handled a previous prosecution of Arbery, and that Gregory McMichael was an investigator in that case. The nature of the prior case involving Arbery was not disclosed.
(Reporting by Rich McKay in Atlanta; Writing by Steve Gorman; Editing by Peter Cooney)