A Georgia prosecutor has called for a grand jury investigation into the shooting death of Ahmaud Arbery, a 25-year-old black man who was killed after being chased by two white men in February while out running in a residential neighborhood outside Brunswick, a city on the state’s southeast coast.
“After careful review of the evidence presented,” Tom Durden, District Attorney of Georgia’s Atlantic Judicial Court, said in a statement, “I am confident the case should be presented to the grand jury of Glynn County for consideration of criminal charges.”
Arbery’s mother, Wanda Cooper, said her son, a former high school football player, was working to be an electrician in an interview with local broadcast outlet First Coast News. In a case where few answers have as yet been provided, Cooper said she is seeking justice.
“I’m feeling very discouraged at this point,” she said. “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.”
Advocates have likewise expressed alarm over the way the shooting has been handled by police, and the lack of criminal charges thus far brought against his attackers. Anger erupted after a disturbing video emerged Tuesday on social media, appearing to show the violent, and seemingly unprovoked, circumstances surrounding Arbery’s death.
Neither Durden nor the Glynn County Police Department responded to TIME’s request for comment on the video’s authenticity. Lee Merritt, an attorney for Arbery’s family, said in a statement that the family saw the video for the first time after it was posted online, despite making “multiple requests” to law enforcement for access to the footage.
According to Merritt, police have had the video footage since Feb. 23, the day Arbery was killed. It is not clear why the footage was not shared with family or released prior to Tuesday.
“This is murder,” Merritt said.
What happened to Ahmaud Arbery?
Video footage captured by an unidentified witness in a vehicle being driven behind Arbery shows him as he jogs along a two-lane road on Feb. 23. Ahead, a white pickup truck is parked, with one man standing in the truck bed and another standing by the driver’s side.
Arbery is seen running toward the truck’s right side and he then veers in and out of the camera’s frame. A gunshot rings out. Arbery is then seen entering into a struggle with one man, who appears to hold a long gun. Another shot then rings out; Arbery was shot at least twice before he fell to the pavement.
An incident report from the Glynn County Police Department obtained by the New York Times identifies Gregory McMichael, 64, and his son, Travis McMichael, 34, as two men who pursued Arbery, though they are not immediately identifiable in the video footage. The report includes a series of quotes from Gregory McMichael, who is identified as a witness.
Gregory McMichael said he saw Arbery run by his front yard and alerted his son, according to the police report — he says they thought he resembled a suspect behind recent break-ins in the neighborhood. Both men then grabbed weapons and attempted to follow Arbery in their pickup truck. After a chase, the men pulled up beside Arbery and shouted at him to stop, McMichael claimed, and Travis McMichael got out of the vehicle with a shotgun. Gregory McMichael alleged that Arbery then attacked Travis and that the men began fighting over the weapon before any shots were fired— an assertion that appears to contradict the footage appearing to show Arbery only began grappling with a man after the first shot.
The police officer who filed the report said the crime scene was later turned over to the Glynn County Criminal Investigative Division. It is not immediately clear if the person who filmed the video provided a statement.
Phone numbers provided for Gregory and Travis McMichael appeared to be disconnected on Wednesday. A spokesperson for the Glynn County Police Department did not immediately respond to TIME’s request for comment.
Arbery’s family members say he was most likely out for a jog and that he was not responsible for any break-ins.
“Arbery had not committed any crime and there was no reason for these men to believe they had the right to stop him with weapons or to use deadly force in furtherance of their unlawful attempted stop,” Merritt said in a statement.
What has happened with the investigation into Arbery’s death?
No one has been arrested or charged in relation of Arbery’s death. Merritt has called for Gregory and Travis McMichael (who is identified as a “suspect” in the incident report) to be taken into custody.
“The Glynn County Police Department has the authority and legal imperative to make an arrest today, pending the presentation of this case to a grand jury,” he said in a statement. “These men must be taken into custody pending their indictment.”
Durden has said a Glynn County grand jury should make the decision on whether criminal charges should be brought in the case. Due to the coronavirus pandemic, however, grand juries are prohibited from meeting through June 12.
“I have no control over the suspensions due to the pandemic; however, I do intend to present the case to the next available grand jury in Glynn County,” Durden said in a statement. The Georgia Bureau of Investigations, which helps in criminal investigations, said Tuesday night that Durden had requested it to look into Arbery’s death.
Action by law enforcement on the case also appears to have been delayed because of repeated conflicts of interest. Two prosecutors initially assigned to oversee the case each had to recuse themselves due to professional connections to Gregory McMichael, who previously worked as an investigator for the Brunswick District Attorney’s office and as an officer for the Glynn County Police Department.
According to a New York Times report, one of the prosecutors, George E. Barnhill, who had formerly been assigned to examine the case told police the men who chased Arbery were acting in accordance with Georgia’s self-defense and citizen arrest statutes. Barnhill later recused himself from the case because his son had previously worked with Gregory McMichael.
Reached for comment, Barnhill did not directly address the Times‘ report. “It would be highly improper for this office to have any public comment about this case,” he wrote in an email to TIME. “People need to let the American criminal justice system work. After it is completed all of the facts and evidence will be available for the public to review.”
Brunswick Judicial Circuit District Attorney Jackie Johnson also had to stop overseeing the case because of a conflict of interest over a prior professional connection with Gregory McMichael, according to the Associated Press.
What have activists and Arbery’s family said?
Arbery’s death, and the subsequent lack of action from law enforcement, has prompted outcry from civil rights activists, who are pressing for an investigation into the case as well as for the McMichaels to be arrested. Protesters took to the site of the incident on Tuesday evening to make these demands.
James Woodall, president of the Georgia N.A.A.C.P., criticized the prosecutors who had to recuse themselves from the case over their “mismanagement” of the incident and called for them both to be removed.
“While we acknowledge District Attorney Tom Durden’s intentions to convene a grand jury to bring charges against the men who gunned down Ahmaud Arbery, we recognize that we have a long way to go until we reach justice,” Woodall said in a statement. “The modern-day lynching of Mr. Arbery is yet another reminder of the vile and wicked racism that persists in parts of our country.”
“The vigilante behavior that we saw in Brunswick is unacceptable in a civilized society,” Young said in a statement. “Ahmaud was killed three days before the anniversary of the 2012 killing of Trayvon Martin. Both incidents are a reminder that white supremacy has been a foundation for our country and leads repeatedly to the targeting and harming people of color, particularly African Americans.”