The Shooting of Ahmaud Arbery

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S1: Hey, everyone. Just a heads up here at the top. Listen to this episode somewhere quiet. The audio quality is a little rougher than usual, but this is an important story with a great reporter. It’s worth your time. If you’ve heard about a mod arbitrary, you might have heard about a video, a video that shows his final moments as he’s shot and killed by a couple of men while running through a coastal neighborhood in Brunswick, southern Georgia. This was February twenty third. Around one o’clock, a warm Sunday afternoon. Imod was just shy of his twenty sixth birthday. But Christian Boone. He wouldn’t start with this video. Does the public safety reporter for the Atlanta Journal Constitution Christian? He’d start this story by talking about a Marbury’s mother, Wanda Cooper Jones.


S2: No one ever spoke to her, which seems like a year ago, and it’s just a couple of weeks ago. You know, she was trying to be optimistic, but was also like, well, this is how these things go down here.

S1: That’s heartbreaking. Yeah. A mother whose son has just been killed said, well, that’s the way things go.

S2: Well, you know, and they also look at what what the police told her the night of her son’s death, that they said that Armondo had been caught breaking into someone’s property and they’ve been chased by the homeowner and killed. So did you believe that? She did? Because she she told me, she said, well, it’s a you know, an official authority. Why would he lie? Of course, since then, we’ve found out that that was not the case, that that was proven.


S1: After her son died, Wanda kept asking questions about the man who killed him and the people investigating them when she discovered one of the prosecutors had a conflict of interest. She pressed for a new prosecutor when she learned there was a video of her son’s killing. She asked for it to be released.

S2: She also had to ask. We like you. We’re not gonna let this case disappear. We want Brunswick to know that this is the world looking upon you or watching them. Little did they know that that actually would be the case.

S1: Even though Wanda was the driving force behind the investigation into her son’s death, and even though the outrage over this video is the sole reason her son’s killers got arrested last week, Wanda still hasn’t been able to bring herself to watch a man’s final moments. She says she might never be able to watch. Have you spoken to Wanda since the video came out and everything changed? Yes. What does she sound like now?


S2: I mean, how the cap is the right word. She’s relieved that they’re being held accountable. I think, you know, they’ll try to kind of register all that that’s happened then because two weeks ago or less than a week ago, if you go back to last Tuesday morning, this was a case that dragged on for more than two months. It was on its third investigator. It didn’t seem any closer, you know, to completion. And then within two hours, the whole world knows about.

S1: Today on the show, if you’ve heard about him out, Harbury, you probably think of his story as one about racism. Christian’s reporting reveals another layer that can’t be captured as easily on a cell phone video. It’s about corruption, Small-Town, politics, nepotism. I’m Mary Harris. You’re listening to what next? Stick with us. You’re based in Atlanta, right? Yes. So when did you first hear about not arbitrary story?


S2: I heard about it actually about of six weeks ago.

S1: What was the story you first heard?

S2: That that a former policeman, an investigator in the district attorney’s office, shot, killed this black jogger now? You know, it was it was always a little suspect. We’ll be just just those particulars was enough to stir interest. I have to say, when I got the police report of the incident, it was clear to me that if this case was being dealt with in a not typical way, because why is the only person they spoke to was Greg Michael. He was the voice for, you know, everything that happened. And he was the shooter. Yeah. When he wasn’t the shooter, his son fired the shots he was providing gun cover for. I mean, he had his gun out there as well. And put your age at Aubury if needed.


S3: Can you describe the area where this shooting took place? Like, what is Brunswick like?

S2: Well, Brunswick’s an interesting place. It’s home. And this is sort of wider than Brunswick, but home to some of the richest people in Georgia who live on Sea Island and St. Simons and Jekyll Island trawl nearby. And then you have some of the poorest people in the state who live there. Many of those are black. And, you know, a lot of the divisions that have been around for generations remain. You know, there’s there’s a mistrust of the police. I think the black community there, that’s that’s not uncommon, of course.

S4: But there have been a number of scandals in recent years involving involving police in the D.a.’s office. Yeah. My producer spoke with some activists down there. And one of them said people in power are white folks. I know there are more black people in the area. Yeah, it’s an interesting place.


S1: From the outset, there appeared to be just a couple of people involved in this shooting. Travis McMichael, who fired the gun, and his dad, Greg McMichael Christian, says a lot of what was initially known about this case came from Greg Craig.

S2: Michael is a recently retired investigator with the Brunswick’s Judicial Circuit District Attorney’s Office. Prior to that, he was a cop for seven years. And Glynn County don’t know much about Travis. I mean, there’s been there’s not been the usual kind of counter offensive saying, you know, they were good guys. He was a family man.

S3: So Greg and Travis live in this suburban community. Still shores, right? Just south of Brunswick.


S5: It’s mostly white, mostly white, middle class community.

S3: So seeing a black jogger run down the street, you might notice it.

S5: They sure did.

S3: So tell me the story of February twenty third. I’m Marbury’s running down the street.

S2: He is running down the street. It’s about one o’clock. So tell us shores is that, you know, not far from as far as I think, about three, four miles. I talked to a resident who lives kind of between where a mortgage still assures. And she said when he was killed, she didn’t know, but she recognized him right away. And the photo was like that guy who runs all the time, who was an avid jogger. That was a nearby area where he could run through. Now, at the time, this is you have to think about the time to the place. I mean, he’s been accused of burglary, but one o’clock on a Sunday in this hotel like Brunswick, actually, when people were getting home from church or get out. So it’s not a time of the year if you’re going to be committing some home. Agents, anyway, he is spotted by Greg Michael running. He tells police later that he recognized him from surveillance video. So he calls up his son, Travis. They both are armed and they get in the pickup truck and chase him down.

S3: It’s hard to imagine the thinking there where I guess these folks were former law enforcement, so saw themselves in that role. But the idea that you see someone in charge after them with a gun is pretty foreign to me.

S2: Yes, it is. Deb, shortly before that, there was a report. So we’re calling I went one about someone being at this unfinished home in the neighborhood. And it appears to be a lot more robbery now. He’s sort of looking around. I think we’ve all kind of, you know, going to a new house, being built the neighborhood. Know check it out. Perhaps he was there to relieve himself. He’s on a long jog. He knows, but he spotted there. He runs from there. And that’s sort of where the Michaels pick it up. They told police that they were going to make a citizen’s arrest. Well, to do that, you’ve got to see a crime actually happen as it’s happening. And there’s no indication that. Great Michael. It seemed about everything in our mind is not accused of any crime. That day he was seen on video footage going into an unfinished show, looking around, checking it out. And that’s it. He doesn’t take anything when there is nothing bad on him when he died.


S3: So not only was there no crime, but the McMichaels were not in the right zone to even pursue a citizen’s arrest.

S2: No, not at all. They’re way out of bounds of what is acceptable in a citizen’s arrest.

S1: One thing is clear. By the end of the day, on February 20 3rd, Harbury is dead. And while Travis McMichael fired the fatal shot, police interviewed Traviss, father Greg, and didn’t make any arrests. So the cases originally referred to the local prosecutor, Jackie Johnson. What happens then?


S2: Well, that depends on who you believe.

S1: Jackie Johnson, the first district attorney, to get her hands on the case. She has this conflict of interest. Greg McMichael, the father of the shooter, he used to work in her office. He’d actually investigated a marberry while I was there. So the state attorney general intervenes, assigned the case to another district attorney, a guy named George Barnhill. But both of these prosecutors have a history of being aligned with the police and pursuing questionable investigations.


S2: Right. More so Jackie Johnson. She’s a polarizing figure, to be sure. There was a case involving a woman who was shot, killed by police after a low speed chase. The GBI investigator who oversaw the case called it the worst police shooting he’d ever seen.

S3: GBI, Georgia Bureau of Investigation.

S2: Yes, but Jackie Johnson helped the officers who were, you know, involved in the shooting with their preparation for the grand jury. And, you know, it was pretty much had her finger in that in that case to help the defendants.

S3: One of our writers at Slate, Jill Anderson, wrote an article about the fact that George Barnhill, who took over the case from Jackie Johnson. He had covered a story where George Barnhill was prosecuting a black activist for helping someone vote and calling it voter fraud. And to me, it’s just it’s another layer of mistrust with the community.

S2: And if you read George Warren Hill’s Natalee’s letter to police, to county police and also its refusal letter, it tells you a lot about who he is.

S1: George Barnhill, the second district attorney, he writes a couple of documents explaining his decision not to charge the McMichaels with any crime. Now, we know there’s a lot missing from those documents. But what Barnhill does say is pretty revealing.


S2: Attacks are very Mott’s families. He’s got a cousin in prison. Well, what does that have to do with this? With this he cites rabble rousers who’ve been trying to, you know, create great instant food to this story.

S3: I’m glad you brought up the letter that George Barnhill wrote where he threw in. Lots of history about Amet Harbury. But left out some telling details. There’s been so much effort to. Talk about arborists history with the justice system. I wonder if you can talk about that. What we know and what’s fair to include in there.

S2: I mean, I think it’s fair to if someone suspected a burglary, if you have a previous conviction on shoplifting charge, which he had, which led to revocation of probation for an incident that happened back in high school when he attempted to bring a loaded gun into the school gymnasium. But. He did his time.

S1: So it’s the then there’s another twist in the story, George Barnhill. It turns out he’s got a son who investigated a Marberry for his previous shoplifting charge. And the reason that information came to light, it wasn’t because Barnhill disclosed it at the outset. It’s because a mod are Berry’s mother, Wanda Cooper Jones. She looked around on Facebook, figured it out.

S2: Has she not done that? He wouldn’t have told. I’m sure wouldn’t told anyone that his son had investigated the Modern Family. Michael had would have recommended no criminal charges. He thought there was insufficient evidence for probable cause. What he says were on the case had been no bill and there’d been there’d be nothing more.

S1: But a MoD’s mom cried foul. So state officials sent the case to a third district attorney, a guy named Tom Durden. Did you expect charges would be brought?


S2: You know, I talked to some attorneys and they said, you know, a couple that I spoke to said, well, they’ll probably take it to a grand jury and he could just decide to he could just decide to charge these guys on his own.

S3: Right.

S2: He could have done that. Yes, it could have been done on the way. So his you know, he doesn’t make a full commitment to anything at that point.

S1: But then the video comes out. It shows a mod arbitrary being shot by Travis McMichael with Greg McMichael right there. There’s a huge response. LeBron James tweets it out. Joe buiding calls it a modern day lynching.

S6: Newly surfaced video now showing us what happened minutes before a mod Aubrey was shot and killed in Brunswick, Georgia. And now his family’s lawyers and the GBI are weighing in on what this could mean for this case. This cell phone video recorded the moment Aubrey was cornered by the men and shot twice by Travis while jogging near his mother’s house in Brunswick, Georgia. The incident has sparked outrage and drawn national attention to Georgia and its justice system.

S2: And all of a sudden, Brian Kent, the governor who was never spoken about this case before Tuesday, is tweeting, This is horrific. The state is to step in and investigate. If you want it done, it accepts GBI takes every case. Those things would not have happened without the video.

S3: So it goes from we’re looking into it. We’re taking our time to all of a sudden this is over. We’re bringing in the Georgia Bureau of Investigations. And also we are arresting these two people very quickly.

S2: Right. Because a video that is. Looks really bad has been released. And we got to get. We got to get out.


S1: This in his reporting, Christian had heard about this video. George Barnhill had referred to it when he explained why he was refusing to prosecute the McMichaels, which is why the video that came out wasn’t what Christian was expecting.

S2: I thought it would be another like maybe. Could be, you know, insane or those hard to really determine conclude what was it. Right. But this to see them two guys, a pickup truck going like they’re in Fallujah, ambushing a black jogger who appeared to be jogging. To me, just the imagery. Everyone’s just so sorry. And then seeing a man shot and he was shot down is on the steps or at least tried to run away again. He gets about five feet away and it just collapses.

S1: So the guy who filmed the video is under investigation. Might have been a party to the crimes alleged here. But Christian Boone says he’s looking for something besides arrests. Now he wants to know who is going to dig into how this case got so mangled by law enforcement.

S2: You know, that’s that’s the big question here is who is going to investigate the investigation? Now, Chris Carr, the attorney general, said don’t say that yesterday, saying that he was going to look at it. What what he can do about it? I don’t know. I don’t yet know. But I think that’s what you see. Seen a lot of people calling for the FBI, the feds, to come in and look at this, arresting them. Michaels was the easy part. Looking into this investigation, what it says about law and justice in that part of the world, is this the hard part?

S3: It’s a funny reading about this story. I kept getting this picture in my mind, like in a classic police procedural. You’ll have those pictures on a board and who’s connected to whom? But I was getting that picture with people in the prosecutor’s office. Here’s Jackie Johnson. She’s connected to George Barnhill and she’s connected to Greg McMichael. Like all of these people are connected. And it’s just so funny that my picture. It’s on the other side of this crime.


S2: Yeah, it’s it’s you know, as one African-American leader told me down there, it’s like, you know, the two stories, these stories are as as Georgina. Corruption and racism. Is going to collide in this story.

S1: On Sunday night, Georgia’s attorney general officially asked the Department of Justice to investigate the circumstances of a Marbury’s death. Christian Boone, thank you so much for joining me. Thanks for having me. Christian Boone is the public safety reporter at the Atlanta Journal Constitution. If you’re interested in this story, I highly recommend you follow Christians reporting. And that’s the show. What Next is produced by Mary Wilson, Jason de Leon and Daniel Hewitt. Tell me what you think of what we’re doing. You can find me on Twitter. I’m at Mary’s Desk. Thanks for listening. I’m Mary Harris.

S7: I’ll talk to you tomorrow.