On February 23rd, 2020, Ahmaud Arbery, a 25-year old African American man, was gunned down while jogging through his Brunswick, Georgia neighborhood, just steps from his home. Two armed white men, Gregory McMichael, a former officer with the Glynn County Police Department, and his son, Travis McMichael, told police they followed Arbery in their pickup truck, believing he was responsible for a series of burglaries in the neighborhood. Gregory claimed Ahmaud attacked his son, who then fired his weapon in self-defense, killing Arbery. There were no arrests at the scene and no charges were filed by prosecutors.
Two months later, a video of the killing surfaced. The video, taken by William Roddy Bryan, a neighbor of the McMichaels who was in his vehicle also pursuing Arbery, contradicted the McMichaels account of what happened and led to a public outcry calling for justice for Ahmaud. On Thursday, May 7th, the Georgia Bureau of Investigation charged the McMichaels’ with murder and aggravated assault.
On today’s Lawyer 2 Lawyer, host Craig Williams is joined by Christopher Bruce, the Political Director for the ACLU of Georgia, as they discuss the killing of Ahmaud Arbery, and take a look at the laws of Georgia, the handling of this case by prosecutors, the impact of the video, where this matter stands today, and what’s to come in the future.
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The Killing of Ahmaud Arbery
Christopher Bruce: We haven’t solved the problem that America has always dealt with. So you hear President Donald Trump talk about America’s fighting an invisible enemy with the Coronavirus and trying to find a cure or a vaccine, but America has never dealt with the original invisible enemy, which is White Supremacy.
Intro: Welcome to the award-winning podcast, Lawyer 2 Lawyer, with J. Craig Williams, bringing you the latest legal news and observations with the leading experts in the legal profession. You are listening to Legal Talk Network.
J. Craig Williams: Welcome to Lawyer 2 Lawyer on the Legal Talk Network. I am Craig Williams coming to you from Southern California.
I write a legal blog named ‘May It Please The Court’ and have a book out titled ‘The Sled’.
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On February 23, 2020 Ahmaud Arbery, a 25-year-old African-American man was gunned down while jogging through a Brunswick, Georgia neighborhood, just steps from his home.
Two White men, Gregory McMichael, a former officer with the Glynn County Police Department and his son, Travis McMichael, told police they followed Arbery in their pickup truck believing he was responsible for a series of burglaries in the neighborhood.
Gregory claimed Ahmaud attacked his son who then fired his weapon in self-defense killing Aubrey. There were no arrests at the scene and no charges were filed by prosecutors immediately.
Some two months later a video of the killing taken by William Roddy Bryan surfaced. The video contradicted the McMichael’s account of what happened and led to a public outcry calling for justice for Ahmaud.
On Thursday, May 7th, the Georgia Bureau of Investigation charged McMichael with murder and aggravated assault.
Today on Lawyer 2 Lawyer, we’re going to be discussing the killing of Ahmaud Aubrey. We’ll take a look at the laws of Georgia, the handling of his case by prosecutors, the impact of the video, where this matter stands today with State prosecutors and what’s going to be coming in the future.
To do that we’ve got a great show for you today. Our guest is Attorney Christopher Bruce, he is the Political Director for the ACLU of Georgia. Chris has been the leader in a fight for civil rights, liberties across the state and country.
Welcome to our show, Chris.
Christopher Bruce: Thank you so much for having me, especially on this important topic.
J. Craig Williams: So much so, yes, and just to start us off, let’s get a little bit of more background in context, a little bit of a timeline perhaps, of what the circumstances are, they are going to form our discussion today.
Christopher Bruce: So I think your timeline of events is exactly the way that will portray it. There are other things I will add into this, which is what we’re calling for the resignation of the District Attorney Jackie Johnson, and the resignation of the District Attorney Barnhill for impropriety and loss of trust by the community.
We are echoing the sentiments of the people of Brunswick in Glynn County and others in that area that is under that jurisdiction for their mishandling of this situation and the case.
To clarify and put this in perspective, February 23rd, 2020 was when this killing happened, like you said before, and then May 7th, these individuals were in handcuffs. That’s 74 days that these people were out in the community after committing murder.
May 5th was when the Georgia Bureau of Investigations was called out to say we would like you to investigate this case, which is the proper procedure. As I understand that the GBI cannot go in unless a jurisdiction axed them to come and investigate.
So they received the file, on May 6th they go through the file, on May 7th these people were in handcuffs. That’s a far cry of what happened on February 23rd and after going through three different district attorneys and no arrests being made, I had to commend the Georgia Bureau of Investigations of actually doing their job to uphold justice.
But now it’s like one of those type of things of when you see a light switch go on, you expect it to happen. When we see your TV turn on, you expect it to happen, when you see a murder in the street, you expect people to be arrested for it, and that’s the problem. So that’s why we’re not praising the GBI for doing their job. They need to do their job, and now we’re trying to make sure that justice is done in this case.
J. Craig Williams: Well, Chris, let’s talk about those prosecutors. As you said there were three. From what I’ve read two of them said that they had some kind of a connection with the gentlemen that are charged, if you want to call them that, the two men that are charged, and so they recused themselves, but it sounds to me 74 days is an awful lot of time for that kind of stuff to happen.
And then there’s a question of what one of those prosecutors wrote that the victim was responsible for the problem? What’s the background there?
Christopher Bruce: So you’re going to have different stories based off of what you are saying and I’m sure this isn’t anything new. On February 23rd it seems that police while they were questioning the two suspects, they had called up the District Attorney’s office and they got in touch with two district attorneys, that’s not the dispute.
We know that there was a call by the Glynn County Police Department to Jackie’s District Attorney Johnson’s Prosecutorial Department and the disparity comes in where the police officers were saying that they were told not to arrest these individuals, compared to the district attorney’s office was saying they never gave such an order, and that’s where the problem arises.
Then the second part, the District Attorney Barnhill, he gets the case and he issues an opinion about the case of why these individuals who should be arrested were not arrested and then refuses himself as well.
So this is why I think a Department of Justice investigation is proper in this situation as well as a State organization like the GBI to look into the miss-dealings by these two district attorneys.
J. Craig Williams: So are the police also going to be investigated, because isn’t it the responsibility of the police themselves to make the decision to arrest or not arrest and then whether to refer it to a DA?
Christopher Bruce: Right. So I’m going to let you in on a little breaking news. Yes, we are signing on to a letter of asking the Department of Justice to do an overall review of everything that has happened in this case including the police.
One of the things that the ACLU of Georgia is doing is talking to people on the ground; in fact, I’m going back out there tomorrow to have discussions with them regarding not to go too deep into it, making a citizen’s review board, so they can look into police actions and they can have another type of grievance against them and another check on the police to make sure something like this doesn’t happen again, because that’s what we’re concerned about, making sure that something like this does not happen again.
J. Craig Williams: Exactly. Now there are some circumstances that have shown up in video later, that shows the home that was under construction and a gentleman who has a white t-shirt and appears to be what’s the circumstances with that?
Christopher Bruce: So you hear different stories from different people again, of course, but it seems that the video shows a gentleman walking into someone else’s property and is just looking around and then just leaves. It doesn’t say anything regarding took anything, he destroyed or —
J. Craig Williams: At most there’s a trespass, right? I mean, at most there’s a trespass.
Christopher Bruce: So that’s where we’re actually looking into this and I may be out of date on this, but I remember when I was a third year in law school and I was doing my internship at a prosecutor’s office, and I had a case where an individual was arrested for trespassing.
The person that I reported to, I said, okay, well, let’s just offer him pretrial diversion and she said drop the case. I said drop the case, why are you saying that? And she said, did — is there anything in the police report about the owner of the property telling him to get off, I said no. And then we looked up Georgia Law and says that you have to be told to leave the property or the premises by the owner or somebody who was authorized by the owner and that was one of the first cases I was ever able to get nol pros. I’m glad for that issue.
So I’m looking back into the code itself, even if there was an instance, if the owner is not telling you to get off their property, you don’t have to get off the property at the time.
J. Craig Williams: And there was no harm?
Christopher Bruce: No harm.
J. Craig Williams: Now let’s talk about this claim of self-defense. I mean what you see in the video is Arbery is circling to the right around a pickup and then it’s blocked the view of him and apparently McMichael’s, is blocked, and then you see the two struggle in very grainy video and what appears to be a gun and you hear a couple of shots. It’s not clear to the layman I think, whether there’s a claim of self-defense here that’s valid, whether there’s not, what the circumstances, who pulled the trigger, where the gun was pointed? I mean there’s — what do you see or what is the position of the ACLU about the video?
Christopher Bruce: So I’m glad you brought that up and that — I’ll circle it back around to your previous question of Georgia’s Citizen’s Arrest Statute, allows a private citizen to arrest someone if they — if a person has personal knowledge in their presence that something of a crime had happened. We don’t know and the people who were watching Mr. Ahmaud did not know that a crime had actually happened at this time.
That’s one of the reasons why we want to get rid of the Georgia Citizen’s Arrest Statute altogether, because private citizens empower themselves become vigilantes and try to confront others within this.
J. Craig Williams: Well, it’s a little bit more than a private citizen, this is a retired policeman.
Christopher Bruce: Who is a private citizen.
J. Craig Williams: No.
Christopher Bruce: And we might be going over semantics.
J. Craig Williams: No, but I mean in the sense of — in the commenter knowledge that person with higher levels of training has a higher degree of responsibility.
Christopher Bruce: I agree, completely agree, and they should act within that way, right.
J. Craig Williams: Right.
Christopher Bruce: I think we’re dealing with messaging, so I’m very careful because the public sometimes gets confused within that. He should be charged as a private citizen. So when it comes down to grand jury investigations, police officers in the State of Georgia are allowed to have counsel during grand jury hearings and submit evidence as well, the private citizen does not. So that’s one of the things where I’m trying to make sure that the right procedures, a process, due process have done.
J. Craig Williams: Well, this has already been, this already been charged. So they bypassed – there was some noise about a grand jury proceeding I think when it was in the county prosecutors hands, but now that it’s been in the State prosecutors hands, they just bypassed the grand jury and as you said, a day later charged it.
Christopher Bruce: Exactly, which is what should have happened in the first place.
J. Craig Williams: Let’s talk about the video. I mean here you’ve got Mr. Bryan who — I’m not sure how the video got leaked, but does he bear some culpability in this, because there’s also been some rumors or some statements out there that this was a coordinated work between the two of them, one was following, one left ahead and this is why the video was being taken. I don’t actually know what the circumstances are.
Christopher Bruce: We don’t know either, because what it looks like is almost similar to a lynch mob, right. Some people are saying, hey we’re going to go track this person down and then hey you need to come along with us and this individual decides on videos as well. So I call on a full investigation of this individual as well to see if he’s actually culpable within it. I don’t want him to be able to get off of saying, well, I was just following and I had absolutely nothing to do with it because typically people don’t just follow after other people when they see that they’re trying to chase down someone and arrest, they are typically a part of that party. I think that’s up for a fact-finder to determine, but we want to make sure that all the parties are brought to justice.
J. Craig Williams: The portion of the video that I’ve seen on the news shows Arbery going toward a white pickup and it doesn’t show anybody chasing him except for Bryan doing the videotaping and if it was a chase or whether it’s just happened to be that it was a dash camera or whatever it was, do you know how the video got leaked?
Christopher Bruce: I believe there was another attorney who was able to obtain the video and leaked it as well. There are different stories that I’ve been hearing on the ground of — they actually offered the video to the police of showing justification for their actions in the first place.
So while we see the video where Mr. Ahmaud is actually going forward and into a truck, there are other situations where there were other recounts of the two suspects, their stories changed all the time. They drove in front of him and as you can see in the video, the truck is that a — is veering left. So as they drove in front of him to deter him, or get in front of him and cut him off, so he couldn’t escape and that’s why they had confronted him, try to keep him and that’s when the shots ensued.
J. Craig Williams: Right, what about Georgia’s Stand Your Ground Laws, do they have any impact in this situation at all?
Christopher Bruce: Well Georgia’s Stand Your Ground Law is basically in summary says, there’s no duty to retreat relating to use of force. So it matters on whose eyes you’re looking into with this and I don’t know if you went through the whole, the Barnhill letter. These individuals again, getting in front, sounding at an individual while they had guns in a pickup truck at somebody who was not armed at all, jumping out of the car to confront the individual.
I’m sure again under Georgia’s Stand Your Ground Law, there is no duty to retreat. So you and your all reasonableness, I thought that you were in danger, which I think anybody in that situation regardless of your race, but especially a Black man, will take that as a threatening gesture, could fight back without a duty to retreat.
So I don’t think that they can claim a Stand Your Ground Law at all. I think Mr. Ahmaud, if he was still here would be able to them.
J. Craig Williams: Well Chris, before we move on to our next segment, we’re going to take a quick break to hear a message from our sponsor. We’ll be right back.
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J. Craig Williams: And welcome back to Lawyer 2 Lawyer. I’m Craig Williams and with us today is Attorney Christopher Bruce, the Political Director for the American Civil Liberties Union, the ACLU of Georgia. We’ve been discussing ‘The Killing of Ahmaud Arbery’, and right before the break Chris, we were talking about the Stand Your Ground Laws. What are the circumstances that are going to happen with Mr. Bryan, the man who is — who took the video? Do you foresee any charges against him?
Christopher Bruce: The Georgia Bureau of Investigations has said, there may be more arrests made within this case and I again don’t know if that deals with the way the police had handled the case, the way the District Attorneys 00:16:09 or even the individual who had filmed the tape as well. I’ve seen his lawyer on TV talking about more — he was more of a witness than he is a suspect, and there are some things of course that I have not been privy to look at as far as their investigation, but I think if there is any type of probable cause this person should be arrested and arrested immediately.
J. Craig Williams: Do you see the DOJ weighing in over whether to file Federal Hate Crime Charges here?
Christopher Bruce: I implore the Department of Justice to look into this case. I think this is why the Department of Justice has happened. I’m familiar with the Shepard Byrd’s Hate Crimes Act, because and this goes into a personal story of mine, and I will make it very brief.
February 23rd is when the shooting happened, the murder of Ahmaud Arbery. I remember that because on February 26 of 2012 it was the death of Trayvon Martin, and the reason why I remember that is because I was a third year in law school reviewing working for as an intern for Community Relations Service at the time and I remember going to Sanford, Florida and trying to mediate the situations that were happening there.
So it’s very discouraging as a African-American male to know what I was doing something eight years ago and I’m facing the exact same thing eight years later with again another senseless killing of an African-American male.
J. Craig Williams: What is this due to race relations; I mean where are we at this point?
Christopher Bruce: We haven’t solved the problem that America has always dealt with. So you hear President Donald Trump talk about America is fighting an invisible enemy with the Coronavirus and trying to find a cure or vaccine, but America has never dealt with the original invisible enemy which is White Supremacy within the United States. We’ve been woefully disregarding a cure or vaccine in education or in love that we should be imploring with all Americans to stand up and fight out these biases that lead to situations like this.
So unfortunately this is a reminder, but we can’t make it into a tragedy if we don’t actually do something about it so it does not repeat. And that’s the call that the ACLU of Georgia is doing.
J. Craig Williams: What do we do?
Christopher Bruce: Oh man, there’s so much to be done. I mean reconciliations amongst individuals or just a calling out from the silent majority and that’s the problem. The silent majority of saying we will not accept this type of behavior in our communities because we are Americans, all of us regardless of our race, gender or creed, we need to come together.
So specifically, it’s demanding that from your elected officials all together that you cannot criticize white supremacy and call it out for what it is, you do not need to represent that community. There are several other things of when actions like this happened, taking to the streets and demanding that justice is done as well.
J. Craig Williams: It seems like we’re as you say — we’re eight years away from it and I can remember when hearing Martin Luther King’s early speeches and it just seems like we’re, it’s a constant battle and it’s so frustrating to see this again and again and again. Do you foresee Georgia instituting a Hate Crime Law out of this, do you think that finally it’s going to get spurred to be done?
Christopher Bruce: I do, but let me tell you I don’t think that that justifies what happens here. So passing a Hate Crime Statute is one thing, we need to make sure that we are tracking and having the policies in front of us to know where Hate Crimes exists so we can stamp it up altogether, that’s why we’re not opposing it.
But let’s go a little bit further, let’s amend Georgia’s Citizen’s Arrest Statute, so people do not feel empowered to follow other people and confront them. Let’s change our use of force to that statute to make so — make it so that people do not feel justified in confronting individuals and giving an overwhelming amount of force that leads to a deadly confrontation, such as the same thing that we have with our Stand Your Ground statute.
J. Craig Williams: Now let’s look a little bit into the future here with McMichael’s coming up, they will certainly be facing Trial at some point in the future, do you think it’s possible given the video and the current circumstances in Georgia for them to get an impartial trial, do you think their lawyers will be asking for a change of venue?
Christopher Bruce: That’s an interesting dynamic that we’ve been discussing around, the fourth prosecutor that has been put on this case. So to find a proper venue or anything else, I think that they need to face up to what has actually happened. I don’t think this isn’t being tried in the court of public opinion, there is a video so that was going to be entered into evidence regardless. They deserve a fair trial and they need to be brought to justice, so I encourage if it is a venue in the Glynn County or Brunswick area, I can’t say I have a preference, but I know that the people in that community want to see justice, so I want them to be able to see it as well. I want them to be able to be in that courtroom every day of the trial, so that that judge and that jury knows that they actually cared about this individual and they care about finally seeing justice in Brunswick and Glynn County.
J. Craig Williams: You mentioned the recently appointed prosecutor, what’s your thoughts?
Christopher Bruce: So we’ve had concerns that there may be conflicts within our office. We’ve heard that there a head homicide investigator knows one of the defendants, which clearly brings up a conflict of interest. We just call on the Attorney General just to make sure that he’s doing his job of overseeing this case and whatever prosecutor he puts in and justice is done.
J. Craig Williams: What defenses do you anticipate that McMichael’s offering in their trial?
Christopher Bruce: That is a great question, because I don’t see how you can literally put up a defense in this type of situation. Of course, they will come up with one, but using the second district attorney who recuse themselves, I mean use his playbook, he will bring up the Georgia Citizens Statue or Use of Force statute or open carry statute or saying that it wasn’t assault for him to come up and have a gun when confronting an individual, and of course, the Stand Your Ground Statute.
J. Craig Williams: Great. Well Chris, thank you so much. It looks like we’ve just about reached the end of our program, so I’d like to take this time to invite you to share your final thoughts along with your contact information for our listeners.
Christopher Bruce: Well, I just want to again thank you for bringing me on, I think that as much public opinion towards this, we can actually get to a place where we can now start solving this issue. I don’t want this story to die off. People need to follow this and demand that justice is done all the way until the court case is finished and then afterwards making sure that there are clear perspectives on how to make change in Brunswick and Glynn County.
So if you want to follow us you can go to acluga.org #JusticeForAhmaud, and you can also follow us on our social media which is ACLU of GA.
J. Craig Williams: Great. Well thank you so much. As we wrap up we’d like to thank our guest Attorney Chris Bruce for joining us today from the Georgia ACLU, it was a pleasure having you on the show.
Christopher Bruce: It was great to be here. Thank you for doing this as well.
J. Craig Williams: Thank you. And for our listeners, if you liked what you heard today, please rate us in Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts or your favorite podcasting app. You can also visit us at legaltalknetwork.com or you can sign up for our newsletter.
I’m Craig Williams, thanks for listening. Join us next time for another great legal topic. When you want legal, think Lawyer 2 Lawyer.
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