11:31 AM PDT, April 29, 2021
Three white suspects in the shooting death of Ahmaud Arbery, an unarmed Black man who was killed last year as he jogged through a Georgia suburb, have been charged with federal hate crimes, the U.S. Department of Justice announced.
The suspects — Travis McMichael, 35; his father, Gregory McMichael, 65, and William Bryan, 51, were each charged with one count of interference with Arbery’s right to use a public street because of his race. They also were charged with one count of attempted kidnapping. The McMichaels were also charged with one count each of using, carrying and brandishing a firearm.
The federal grand jury indictments were announced Wednesday, and are the latest in a series actions undertaken in the past week by the Justice Department to address allegations of police abuse and civil rights violations around the country.
The department also announced far-ranging investigations of the Minneapolis and Louisville police departments following the deaths of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor. The deaths of Floyd, Taylor and Arbery are the highest-profile killings of Black people that spurred massive protests in the U.S and beyond.
According to the eight-page federal indictment, the three men intimidated “because of Arbery’s race and color.”
In a statement, the Justice Department described the encounter thusly, “As Arbery was running on a public street in the Satilla Shores neighborhood of Brunswick, Ga., Travis McMichael and Gregory McMichael armed themselves with firearms, got into a truck and chased Arbery through the public streets of the neighborhood while yelling at Arbery, using their truck to cut off his route and threatening him with firearms.”
The father and son already face murder and aggravated assault charges in Georgia state court. Both men were arrested in May 2020 — more than two months after the shooting death — after video of the incident went viral.
Bryan, who filmed the incident and is accused of hitting Arbery with his truck, was charged in Georgia with criminal attempt to commit false imprisonment and felony murder.
All three have pleaded not guilty to the charges against them are in custody pending their state trial, which has not been scheduled. The men have denied any wrongdoing and said they pursued Arbery because they thought he was a burglar.
State investigators took over the case after the video went viral, and quickly charged the men. Local prosecutors had declined to press charges, prompting outcries of corruption because the elder McMichael was a former cop and investigator with the prosecutor’s office.
Jason Sheffield, an attorney for Travis McMichael, said the federal indictment “ignored the totality of the evidence” that his team had presented in defense of his client. Kevin Gough, who represents Bryan, said that his client had “committed no crime,” and “we look forward to a fair and speedy trial, and to the day when Mr. Bryan is released and reunited with his family.”
The lawyer for Gregory McMichael has not publicly commented on the federal charges.
Wanda Cooper-Jones, Arbery’s mother, told The New York Times her family is grateful for the indictments. “We never gave up hope,” she said. “He was killed because of hate. It was initiated by hate,” Cooper-Jones said. “We look at this as one step closer to justice for Ahmaud.”
In a court hearing last year, an investigator for the Georgia Bureau of Investigation testified that Bryan told state agents that Travis McMichael, who fired the shots that killed Arbery, stood over the 25-year-old man as he lay dying in the road and called him a “f***ing n*****.”
Georgia Assistant Special Agent in Charge Richard Dial testified that Bryan told investigators that Travis McMichael uttered the slur after firing three shotgun blasts at Arbery.