DOJ Considering Possible Hate Crime Charges in Arbery Slaying

May 11, 2020 Updated: May 12, 2020

The Justice Department (DOJ) says it’s reviewing the evidence in the shooting death of Ahmaud Arbery to determine if federal hate crime charges are warranted in the Georgia case.

“The Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice, the FBI, and the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Georgia have been supporting and will continue fully to support and participate in the state investigation,” Kerri Kupec, the department’s spokesperson, said in a statement.

“We are assessing all of the evidence to determine whether federal hate crimes charges are appropriate,” she added.

The department added that it’s considering Georgia Attorney General Chris Carr’s request for a DOJ probe of the handling of Arbery’s case, and has asked the state to forward any relevant information.

Gregory McMichael, 64, and his son, Travis McMichael, 34, were arrested on May 7 and charged with murder and aggravated assault in the fatal shooting of the 25-year-old Arbery as he jogged through his neighborhood near Brunswick, Georgia, in February.

Gregory McMichael (L) and his son Travis McMichael
Gregory McMichael (L) and his son Travis McMichael on May 7, 2020. (Glynn County Detention Center via AP)
Ahmaud Arbery and mother
Ahmaud Arbery (L) poses with his mother, Wanda Cooper. (Courtesy of S. Lee Merritt)

The arrests were made after video footage of the incident, captured by an unnamed witness in a vehicle near the scene, showed the father, a former county police officer, confronting Arbery. The video was circulated widely and sparked significant outrage on social media and public demands for investigations.

The elder McMichael told officers previously that he and his son thought Arbery resembled a person they suspected was linked to recent burglary cases, and so chased after him. According to a police report filed Feb. 23, the pair were in possession of a shotgun and a .357 Magnum revolver, and tailed him in a white pickup truck as he ran.

The 64-year-old also claimed his son was attacked violently by Arbery, which isn’t evident in the footage. The video footage shows that at least three gunshots were fired.

The DOJ statement comes after Carr called on the department to conduct an investigation into how the Arbery case was handled. The case had gone through the appointment of three prosecutors over the span of about two and a half months, without any arrests.

Two of the prosecutors recused themselves from the case due to potential conflicts of interest. One of the prosectors had a previous work connection with Gregory McMichael, who worked as an investigator for that prosecutor. Meanwhile, another prosecutor recused himself after learning that his son had handled a prior prosecution of Arbery, Carr said.

Carr said on May 11 that he had appointed Joyette Holmes, the Cobb County district attorney, to take over the case. Tom Durden, the district attorney for the Atlantic Judicial Circuit, was previously on the case.

“I appreciate District Attorney Tom Durden’s involvement in the Ahmaud Arbery case,” Carr said in a statement. “This case has grown in size and magnitude since he accepted the appointment on April 13, 2020, and as an experienced District Attorney, Tom has recognized that another office is better suited from a resource perspective to now handle the case. As a result, he has requested our office to appoint another District Attorney.”

S. Lee Merritt, Benjamin Crump, and L. Chris Stewart, attorneys who are representing the Arbery family, welcomed Carr’s request to the DOJ on May 10, saying that “there are far too many questions about how this case was handled and why it took 74 days for two killers to be arrested and charged in Arbery’s death.”

Isabel Van Brugen and the Associated Press contributed to this report.

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