Gregory McMichael and son Travis McMichael faced a judge for the first time Friday following the Feb. 23 shooting death of Ahmaud Arbery in Brunswick, Georgia. The father and son were arrested Thursday after days of national uproar when a video of the shooting leaked. They said they believed Arbery marched the description of a burglary suspect, but Arbery's mother has said she believes he was only jogging that morning.
McMichael, 64, and Travis, 34, appeared in court via video conference before Glynn County Magistrate Judge Wallace Harrell, reports the Associated Press. The judge read the men their rights and the aggravated assault and felony murder charges they face. The two only spoke to confirm their names. Meanwhile, outside the courthouse, people gathered to sing "Happy Birthday" for Arbery, who would have turned 26 Friday.
The Georgia Bureau of Investigation announced the McMichaels' arrests on Thursday night, days after a video of the shooting leaked. There was an investigation by local authorities, but the prosecutor asked the GBI to look into the case last month. In early April, the previous prosecutor on the case wrote a letter to Glynn County police, listing reasons he believed there was "insufficient probable cause to issue arrest warrants." Waycross District Attorney George E. Barnhill wrote that what the McMichaels did could be considered legal under Georgia's citizens' arrests, open carry and self-defense laws.
McMichael, a former investigator for the local district attorney's office, told police there were burglaries in the area where Arbery was shot, reports NPR. According to a Glynn County Police Department incident report, McMichael thought he saw the person suspected to be responsible for those crimes "hauling a—" down the street. McMichael and his son then got in their truck, with McMichael carrying a .357 Magnum and Travis a shotgun. When they caught up to Arbery, Travis left the truck. The "unidentified male began to violently attack Travis" and the men fought over the weapon, they told police. Travis shot twice, the police report states.
There was another person with the McMichaels who came to record the incident. Some of the incident was also recorded in two 911 calls, notes the AP. "There's a black male running down the street," a caller said in the first recording. The dispatcher then told the caller, "I just need to know what he was doing wrong." Six minutes later, someone is heard yelling "stop... dammit. Stop" and then "Travis!" There were no new details in the arrest warrants filed Friday.
In the leaked video, a black man is seen running, then a truck is stopped in the road in front of him. One of the white men stood in the pickup truck's bed while another stood beside the driver's side door. The running man tried to pass the truck on the passenger's side, outside the camera view. There was a gunshot sound, and the video shows the runner and one of the men grappling over a weapon. Another shot is heard, and the runner punched the man. After a third shot, the runner falls face down.
While the McMichaels' arrests were praised by Arbery's family, there were not happy that it took more than three months after the incident for an arrest to be made. "They did not arrest the killers of Ahmaud Arbery because they saw the video," family attorney Ben Crump told the AP. "They arrested the killers of Ahmaud Arbery because we saw the video, the public saw the video and it went viral. It was shocking. People were astonished."