On the eve of a hearing for three men accused in Ahmaud Arbery’s death, his family witnessed the repeal of a Civil War-era law in Georgia that allowed citizen arrests. Travis McMichael, Greg McMichael, and William “Roddie” Bryan Jr. will appear in front of a judge on federal hate crime and kidnapping charges Tuesday afternoon.
When the three men chased down and fatally shot Arbery, a 25-year-old Black man out for a jog near Brunswick, Georgia, last year, the McMichaels claimed they were conducting a citizen’s arrest and acting in self-defense.
Bryan Jr., who allegedly recorded video of Arbery’s death, allegedly hit Arbery with his truck after joining the McMichaels in the pursuit. “Ahmaud was the victim of vigilante-style violence that has no place in our country or in our state,” Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp said as he signed H.B. 479 into law on Monday. He described the legislation as a “complete overhaul of Georgia’s outdated citizen’s arrest statute.”
“Today, we are replacing a Civil War-era law that was ripe for abuse with language that balances the sacred right of a person and property to self-defense with our shared responsibility to root out injustice and set our state on a better path forward,” Kemp said. Arbery’s mother, Wanda Cooper-Jones, and his sister, Jasmine Arbery, were in attendance at the signing. Cooper-Jones expressed gratitude for the bill’s passage. “Unfortunately, I had to lose my son in order to see significant change, but I’m still grateful,” she said.
An attorney for the Arbery family, Lee Merritt, stated that the “family is still focused on criminal accountability and seeing this case through to a prosecution of appropriate sentencing.” The three men “used force and threats of force to intimidate and interfere with Arbery’s right to use a public street because of his race,” according to federal prosecutors.
Prosecutors say the McMichaels “armed themselves with firearms, got into a truck, and chased Arbery through the public streets of the neighborhood while yelling at him, using their truck to cut off his route, and threatening him with firearms” while Arbery was jogging.
Bryan also joined the chase and cut off Arbery’s route with his truck, prosecutors said.
“All three defendants attempted to unlawfully seize and confine Arbery by chasing after him in their trucks in an attempt to restrain him, restrict his free movement, corral and detain him against his will, and prevent his escape,” the Justice Department said in a press release.
Bryan’s video footage of the fatal shooting shows Arbery and Travis McMichael squabbling before three gunshots are heard. Arbery’s T-shirt has blood on it below his left ribcage. He trips and falls in the middle of the two-lane highway. According to the Justice Department, the three men were charged federally last month with one count of interference with rights and one count of attempted kidnapping.
Travis McMichael and his father, Gregory McMichael, were charged with using, carrying, and brandishing (in Travis’s case, discharging) a firearm during and in relation to a violent crime.
Cooper-Jones told journalists at the time that the federal hate crime charges were “huge.” Ben Crump, an attorney for the Arbery family, said the indictments were “yet another step in the right direction.” “This is an important step forward in America’s uphill battle for racial justice, and we applaud the Justice Department for treating this heinous act for what it is: a purely evil, racially motivated hate crime,” Crump said in a statement.
Travis McMichael’s attorneys, Jason Sheffield and Robert Rubin, said in a statement that they were “deeply disappointed that the Justice Department bought the false narrative that the media and state prosecutors have promulgated.”
Kevin Gough, Bryan’s attorney, also expressed disappointment. “Roddie Bryan has done nothing wrong. We are looking forward to a fair and expeditious trial, as well as the day Mr. Bryan is released and reunited with his family “Gough made the announcement in a statement.
Gregory and Travis McMichael have pleaded not guilty to malice and felony murder charges, as well as counts of aggravated assault, false imprisonment, and criminal attempt to commit false imprisonment, in a state trial set to begin with jury selection on October 18.
Bryan pleaded not guilty to charges of felony murder and criminal attempt to commit false imprisonment.