SAVANNAH, Ga.—More than two years before he was fatally shot in a Georgia subdivision, Ahmaud Arbery had a tense confrontation in a public park with police officers who attempted to use a stun gun on him after Arbery angrily protested being bothered and refused to let them search his parked car.
“You bothering me for nothing!” Arbery tells one of the Glynn County police officers whose body camera recorded the encounter on Nov. 7, 2017.
Arbery was killed Feb. 23 by a white father and son who armed themselves and gave chase after seeing the 25-year-old black man running down their street. More than two months passed before a video of the killing emerged, sparking an outcry. Gregory McMichael, 64, and Travis McMichael, 34, were then jailed on charges of felony murder and aggravated assault.
Attorneys for Arbery’s parents said on May 19 that the body camera video from 2017 shows Arbery being harassed by the same police department that declined to arrest his killers. The McMichaels were taken into custody after the Georgia Bureau of Investigation took over the case this month.
In the incident report for the 2017 encounter, officer M. Kanago writes that he pulled up behind Arbery’s car parked in an open field at a public park because it was a “known area for drugs and other criminal activity.”
First obtained by The Guardian, the video released Monday shows Arbery repeatedly declining when an officer asks to search his Toyota. A backup officer arrives, and tells Arbery “don’t reach the car” and “keep your hands out your pockets.” This second officer then attempts to use a stun gun as Arbery raises his hands out to his sides. The device just clicks loudly; the officer later says it malfunctioned. Arbery complies with orders to get on the ground, and he goes to his knees.
At the beginning of the encounter, Arbery hands over his driver’s license and asks the first officer on the scene why he’s being bothered. When he’s told that the area is known for drugs, Arbery becomes angry. “Criminal activity? I’m in a f—-ing park! I work! What the f—- you talking about?”
The first officer pats him down looking for weapons. “I’m not searching you. I’m checking you for weapons,” he says, adding, “You don’t have any warrants.”
Absent probable cause or a court-issued warrant, police generally aren’t allowed to search a parked car without permission.
Attorneys for Arbery’s parents said in a statement Tuesday that the video “clearly depicts a situation where Ahmaud was harassed by Glynn County police officers.” They noted Arbery was not arrested or charged with any crimes.
“This appears to be just a glimpse into the kind of scrutiny Ahmaud Arbery faced not only by this police department, but ultimately regular citizens” like those who pursued and shot him, the attorneys’ statement said.
Officer Brandon Kondo, a Glynn County police spokesman, said the department “is not issuing any statements regarding the Ahmaud Arbery case, or previous interactions.” He referred any questions to the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, which is handling the shooting investigation.
In the police report, the first officer on the scene wrote that as Arbery, bare-chested beneath an open coat, became angry, “I observed veins popping from his chest which made me feel that he was becoming enraged and may turn physically violent toward me.”
As the officer calls for backup, the body camera video shows Arbery shouting at him, “You hit me with that s—-, bitch, you gonna be f——— up!”
After police try to stun him, Arbery and the officers seem to calm down. On his knees, Arbery says, “So in the park chilling, then, that’s a crime?”
“Well, when it’s way back here … it’s kind of weird,” one of the officers replies on the body camera footage. “We don’t see cars sitting out here that often.”
The officers let Arbery go about eight minutes after the encounter began. But he’s told he can’t drive off in his car because he has a suspended license. He walks away.
Once Arbery’s gone, one of the officers sniffs at the driver’s side window of the car. He says he thinks he smells marijuana and asks a supervisor arriving on the scene if they can now search the vehicle.
“I can’t tell what it is,” the supervisor says. “I wouldn’t mess with it.”
By Russ Bynum