by Lucy Holland
After a graphic video of two white men in a pick-up truck shooting a 25-year-old black man surfaced on May 5, protests and calls to action erupted across the nation. Here is a complete timeline of the case.
Feb. 23 – Gregory and Travis McMichael Shoot Ahmaud Arbery while he is jogging
Gregory McMichael, 64, and his son Travis McMichael, 34, notice Arbery running down their street and believe he resembles the man responsible for a string of robberies in their neighborhood in Brunswick, Georgia. The Brunswick News later reported that there had only been one burglary in the area in 2020 and that it was a handgun stolen out of a truck parked in front of the McMichael’s house, according to documents obtained through a public records request.
Gregory grabs a .357 Magnum and Travis grabs a shotgun to pursue Arbery. They follow him in their white pickup truck and eventually shoot and kill Arbery at around 1 pm. According to the report Gregory gave the police after the initial confrontation, “The two men then started fighting over the shotgun at which point Travis fired a shot and then a second later there was a second shot.”
When police arrive at the Arbery’s house, they tell his mother Wanda Cooper-Jones that a homeowner shot her son while inside a house in the middle of a burglary.
Feb. 27 – The first prosecutor, Jackie Johnson, recuses herself
Jackie Johnson, the Brunswick District Attorney, writes a letter recusing herself from the case, citing a conflict of interest due to Gregory having worked as a former Glenn County Police Officer and as an investigator in her office for more than 30 years. Johnson reports that “the information I had was that there was a shooting involving Greg McMichael and his son. There seemed to be a self-defense issue, and they didn’t know whether they could make an arrest.”
Contradictory to her statement, according to a timeline by Glynn County’s Public Information Officer Matthew Kent, “The DA’s office advised that there needed to be further follow up and the detectives would be contacted the following day by the DA from the Waycross Judicial Circuit. The McMichaels were deemed not to be flight risks, and officers were advised by the DA’s office that no arrests were necessary at the time”
This controversy has created a call for Johnson’s removal from office.
Feb. 29 – Ahmaud Arbery is laid to rest at New Springfield Baptist Church
According to his obituary, “[Arbery] was a loving son, brother, uncle, nephew, cousin, and friend. He was humble, kind and well mannered. He always made sure he never departed from his loved ones without an ‘I Love You’… He was quite the athlete and chose to wear the football jersey #21, which was passed down from his older brother, Marcus, Jr. Ahmaud.”
Apr. 1 – The Brunswick News releases details on the ongoing police investigation
Through a public records request, the Brunswick News relays information from the ongoing police report, based almost entirely on an interview with Gregory McMichael. Gregory alleges that after the pursuit, Arbery “violently attack[ed]” Travis, the two fought over the gun, and then Travis shot him twice in self-defense. After the shots, the McMichaels searched Arbery’s body for a weapon. The report ends before confirming or denying that there was a weapon found on his body.
Late March through Early April – Arbery’s Mother, Wanda Cooper-Jones conducts her own investigation into Waycross District Attorney George E. Barnhill
Cooper-Jones finds out the new prosecutor in charge has ties that could cause a conflict of interest as well. She learns through reading a news article that her son was not killed in an attempted burglary as the police had told her, but in the street by two white men. Barnhill’s son worked for Johnson in the Brunswick DA’s office, and he similarly had ties to Gregory McMichael. Through a letter obtained by the New York Times, Barnhill tells Glynn County Police Capt. Tom Jump that Cooper-Jones, “believes there are kinships between the parties [there are not] and has made other unfounded allegations of bias.”
Apr. 3 – Barnhill, the second prosecutor, recuses himself from the case
In the same three-page letter reported by the New York Times, Barnhill formally recuses himself from the case stating that, “The victim’s mother has clearly expressed she wants myself and my office off the case.” Barnhill also defends the actions of the McMichaels, citing evidence from an unreleased videotape that there were “no grounds for arrest.” He reveals that another man, William Bryan, was also in “hot pursuit” of Arbery and he was filming from the car behind the McMichaels.
He states that, “It appears their intent was to stop and hold this criminal suspect until law enforcement arrived… Travis McMichael and Greg McMichael had firearms being carried in an open fashion… Under Georgia Law this is legal open carry.” He then goes on to analyze the video taken by Williams, which had not been released to the public, reporting that, “Given the fact Arbery initiated the fight, at the point Arbery grabbed the shotgun, under Georgia Law, McMichael was allowed to use deadly force to protect himself.”
Apr. 13 – Tom Durden, District Attorney of the Atlantic Judicial Circuit, takes over the case
Tom Durden announces that he will present the case to a Glenn County grand jury, adding that, “Having neither previous knowledge of the incident nor any relationship with any investigators or witnesses, [he] accepted the appointment to review the case and take the action that [he] thought was appropriate.” Due to the coronavirus pandemic, the next available grand jury is not until June 12.
Apr. 28 – The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and other community leaders issue a statement
Georgia’s NAACP President Rev. James Woodall states, “We are deeply troubled by the senseless violence against black life in this country. Instead of preparing to celebrate his 26th birthday alive, Ahmaud is being remembered as the latest victim of racial terrorism.”
May 5 – William Bryan’s video emerges on social media
The graphic video taken by the third suspect in the case, William Bryan, is allegedly released by a criminal defense attorney, Alan Tucker. Tucker, who informally consulted with the McMichaels, states that, “It wasn’t two men with a Confederate flag in the back of a truck going down the road and shooting a jogger in the back. It got the truth out there as to what you could see. My purpose was not to exonerate them or convict them.” The video goes viral, inspiring nation-wide outrage.
May 6 – The Georgia Bureau of Investigation (GBI) takes over the case as outrage spreads
The Arbery family’s attorneys, S. Lee Michael and Ben Crump, host a video press conference calling for the Department of Justice and the FBI to investigate the case and file federal hate crime charges—the state of Georgia has no hate crime laws. Crump states that, “We believe if this [the attacker] was any other citizen, especially a citizen of color, they would have been arrested because you have an unarmed man in a jogging attack. He doesn’t have any burglary outfit or burglary tools or anything like that. I mean, he’s jogging, and this guy kills them, and they just take his word for it”
At the same time, celebrities around the world including Lebron James, Joe Biden, Kim Kardashian, Ellen DeGeneres, and Taylor Swift call for action, among dozens more. Supermodel Padma Laksmi tweets the Glynn County Police Department’s phone number.
May 7 – The GBI takes the McMichaels into custody
At 7:45 pm, the GBI arrests the father and son on charges of aggravated assault and murder.
May 8 – Supporters rally on what would have been Arbery’s 26th birthday
Thousands of people nationwide post on social media using the hashtag #IRunWithMaud. Supporters run 2.23 miles in recognition of the day he was killed.
The GBI announces that the neighbor who recorded the video, William Bryan, is also under investigation. Glynn county commissioners Allen Booker, and Peter Murphy accuse DA Jackie Johnson of obstructing justice and call for her removal. She has since denied what she deemed to be “baseless and false” claims.
May 9 – A video is released showing Arbery in a construction site before he was killed
A video appears to show Arbery walking into a home under construction, looking around, and then leaving. He remains on the property for under three minutes, then continues to jog down the road.
Arbery family lawyers issue a statement saying, “He did not cause any damage to the property. He remained for a brief period of time and was not instructed by anyone to leave, but rather left on his own accord to continue his jog. Ahmad’s actions at this empty home under construction were in no way a felony under Georgia law.”
The GBI reveals they had seen the video before making the arrest and it was under review.
May 10 – Georgia Attorney General (AG) urges the Justice Department for review
Georgia AG Chris Carr reportedly asks for a “complete and transparent review of how the Ahmaud Arbery case was handled from the outset,” including the actions of Johnson, Barnhill, and the Glenn County Police Department.
May 11 – A fourth prosecutor takes on the case
Carr assigns Cobb County District Attorney Joyette M. Holmes the Arbery case. Holmes is the first African American woman to hold office in Cobb County, a suburb outside of Atlanta. Merrit tweets that Holmes’ assignment is a “huge win” for the family because the previous prosecutors “sat on the case until video of Ahmaud’s murder was leaked.”
May 21 – The GBI arrests and charges William Bryan with murder
Bryan, who took the video of the shooting, is arrested by the GBI and charged with felony murder and criminal attempt to commit false imprisonment.
May 26 – The shooting of Ahmaud Arbery is being investigated as a federal hate crime
Merrit reports that, after a meeting with United States Attorney for the Southern District of Georgia Bobby Christine, he learned the case was officially being investigated as a federal hate crime.
(Sources: NY Times, NBC, Insider, ABC, CNN, Wall Street Journal, Georgia Bureau of Investigation)