The Justice Department brought federal hate crimes charges Wednesday in the death of Ahmaud Arbery, charging a father and son who armed themselves, chased and fatally shot the 25-year-old Black man after spotting him running in their Georgia neighborhood.
Travis McMichael and his father, Gregory, were charged along with a third man, William “Roddie” Bryan, with one count of interference with civil rights and attempted kidnapping. The McMichaels are also charged with using, carrying and brandishing a firearm during a crime of violence.
The case is the most significant civil rights prosecution undertaken to date by the Biden administration Justice Department and comes as federal officials have moved quickly to open sweeping investigations into troubled police departments as civil rights takes center stage among the department’s priorities.
The indictment charges that the McMichaels “armed themselves with firearms, got into a truck and chased Arbery through the public streets of the neighborhood while yelling at Arbery, using their truck to cut off his route and threatening him with firearms.” It also alleges that Bryan got into a truck and then chased Arbery, using the vehicle to block his path.
Arbery, 25, was killed on Feb. 23, 2020, by three close-range shotgun blasts after the McMichaels pursued him in a pickup truck as he was running through their neighborhood. Arbery had been dead for more than two months when a cellphone video of the shooting was leaked online and a national outcry erupted.
The Georgia Bureau of Investigation took over the case the next day and swiftly arrested Travis McMichael, who fired the shots, his father, and Bryan, a neighbor who joined the pursuit and took the video. The three men remain jailed on state murder charges and are due back in court in May.
S. Lee Merritt, an attorney for Arbery’s mother, Wanda Cooper-Jones, applauded the hate crimes charges Wednesday, tweeting that the federal case would “serve as a fail-safe to the state prosecution.”
“Hate claimed Ahmaud’s life,” Merritt tweeted. “Our justice system must combat intolerance.”
The McMichaels’ lawyers have said they pursued Arbery, suspecting he was a burglar, after security cameras had previously recorded him entering a home under construction. They say Travis McMichael shot Arbery while fearing for his life as they grappled over a shotgun.
Local prosecutors have said Arbery stole nothing and was merely out jogging when the McMichaels and Bryan chased him.
The Justice Department alleges that the men “used force and threats of force to intimidate and interfere with Arbery’s right to use a public street because of his race.”
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