BRUNSWICK, Ga. — Ahmaud Arbery was sitting in his car, reportedly listening to music and rapping, in November 2017 when police in his rural Georgia community questioned him, frisked him, and after he refused to let them search his car, tried to use a Taser on him as he held his empty hands out at his sides.
The stun gun malfunctioned.
Body camera footage of the incident, first obtained by The Guardian through a public records request, casts an ever-deepening pall over law enforcement officials in Glynn County, who have come under fire since Arbery was gunned down by two white men as he ran in their Brunswick neighborhood. Georgia Attorney General Chris Carr has asked the Department of Justice to review how police and prosecutors handled the investigation into Arbery’s Feb. 23 fatal shooting.
Arbery, 25, of Brunswick, was pursued by vehicle as he took what his family said was a regular jog in the Satilla Shores neighborhood near his home. Travis McMichael, 34, and his father, Gregory McMichael, 64, told police they believed Arbery was a burglary suspect when they set off to stop him.
The men are charged with felony murder and aggravated assault in Arbury’s killing.
Attorneys for Arbery’s family said video and other evidence indicate the McMichaels and a third man, William “Roddie” Bryan, followed Arbery for more than four minutes before the shooting, repeatedly cutting off his path until they had him boxed in. Bryan, who captured the killing on cellphone video, has not been charged.
Gregory McMichael is a retired longtime investigator for the Brunswick Judicial Circuit District Attorney’s Office. The Washington Post reported that the elder McMichael was stripped last year of his law enforcement certification after repeated failures to complete required training, including mandatory firearms and use-of-force training.
It is Travis McMichael, not his father, who is accused of pulling the trigger. Arbery died of wounds caused by three shotgun blasts, according to his autopsy.
Gregory McMichael is also a former police officer with the Glynn County Police Department, which has long been under fire for what has been described as a culture of corruption. The department’s police chief is currently on administrative leave as he awaits resolution of a criminal case in which he has been charged.
Chief John Powell was indicted Feb. 27 -- four days after Arbery’s killing -- on charges that he and three former high-ranking police officials ignored evidence that a Glynn County officer was connected to a drug dealer.
According to the Brunswick News, the case involves a narcotics officer who had a sexual relationship with a confidential informant. The indictments came amid allegations of a cover-up regarding a police chase involving the Glynn-Brunswick Narcotics Enforcement Team that ended with a fatality.
Powell is charged with four counts of violation of oath by a public officer, two counts of influencing a witness and one count of criminal attempt to commit perjury, the News reported.
In the wake of the corruption allegations and Arbery’s killing, there have been calls to disband the Glynn County Police Department.
Attorneys for Arbery’s family told The Associated Press Tuesday that the 2017 body camera footage shows Arbery being harassed by the same police department that more than two years later refused to arrest his killers. No action was taken against the McMichaels until more than two months after the homicide when Bryan’s graphic footage of Arbery’s death was reportedly leaked to a radio station by Gregory McMichael and a lawyer friend.
The case was initially going to be presented to a grand jury, but pressure from Arbery’s family and civil rights activists prompted prosecutors to turn the matter over to the Georgia Bureau of Investigation.
Within 72 hours, GBI investigators had found enough probable cause to charge the men.
It was officers from the Glynn County Police Department, Gregory McMichael’s old department, who accosted Arbery in Brunswick’s Townsend Park on the morning of Nov. 7, 2017. Officer M. Kanago wrote in a police report on the incident that he first approached Arbery’s gold Toyota Camry around 9 a.m. because the park “is a known are for drugs and other criminal activity.”
In the video, Arbery gets out of the car and, stretching as he speaks to the officer, tells him he is sitting in his car and rapping to music. Kanago asks for identification, which Arbery retrieves from the car.
Kanago wrote in the report, which was also obtained by The Guardian, that he began running Arbery’s name through Georgia and national criminal databases, a search that came back clean.
Arbery, who was dressed in a green baseball cap, athletic pants and a black jacket with no shirt, is seen in the video becoming impatient. Using an expletive, he demands to know why Kanago is bothering him.
“The (expletive) you come over and (expletive) with me for?” Arbery asks.
“Why am I (expletive) with you? You want to know why I’m (expletive) with you?” Kanago responds.
Watch the entire video below, courtesy of The Guardian. Warning: The footage contains explicit language.
As he approaches Arbery again, he orders him to get his hand out of his pocket.
“I ain’t got (expletive) on me?” Arbery exclaims. “What the (expletive) you (expletive) with me for?”
“I’ll tell you why I’m here, man,” Kanago responds. “Because this area is known for drug activity.”
Arbery gets upset, telling Kanago that he works at Blue Beacon Truck Wash. Stepping closer to the officer and holding out his arms, he tells him to check him.
Kanago orders him to back up. At the same time, the officer calls for another officer to come to the scene.
The officer wrote in the police report that he requested backup out of fear Arbery could be dangerous.
“I observed veins popping from his chest, which made me feel that he was becoming enraged and may turn physically violent toward me,” Kanago wrote.
In the video, Kanago has Arbery turn around so he can ensure he has no weapons on him. The officer explains that he is not searching him but only checking him for weapons because Arbery “coming up on (him)” was making him nervous.
He mentions that Arbery has no outstanding warrants.
“You’re bothering me for nothing,” Arbery says. “I work at Blue Beacon, man.”
Despite the tense back-and-forth, the encounter between the pair stays relatively calm.
“Listen, man, I’m not here to ruin your day,” Kanago says. “I’m here to look for any kind of criminal activity, that’s all.”
“Criminal activity? I’m in a (expletive) park! I work!” Arbery says.
Kanago moves to the passenger side of Arbery’s car, an effort to “look for weapons or drugs that would be in plain view,” the officer wrote in the police report.
Arbery told him to stay away from his car. Again, he moved closer to the Kanago, who, in the video, appears to shove Arbery back.
“Don’t touch me, bruh,” Arbery says. “Don’t touch my car and don’t touch me.”
As the officer steps further back, deescalating the situation, he again asks Arbery what he’s doing in the park. He also again requests backup. As they continue to talk, a patrol car appears in the grass on the other side of Arbery’s Camry.
According to the police report, the second officer was Officer D. Haney.
Haney approaches Arbery and Kanago, who tells the second officer he saw a plastic baggie inside Arbery’s car.
Arbery, who is standing several feet away from either officer with his hands outstretched on either side of his body, tells Kanago he cannot go into his car.
“You’re not allowing me to search your car?” Kanago asks.
“You can’t go in my (expletive),” Arbery says, stepping toward the car.
Haney orders him away from it and removes a Taser from his belt.
Arbery backs away from the car and briefly puts his hand in his pocket. Haney orders him to remove his hand.
As Arbery complies, Haney fires the Taser, which misfires. He continues firing the malfunctioning weapon at Arbery as he orders him to his knees in the grass.
At that point, Kanago tells him he’d already checked Arbery for weapons.
Haney holsters the stun gun as Kanago tries to deescalate the situation and calm Arbery down.
“I got one day off a week,” an exasperated Arbery tells the officers as he sits on his haunches in the grass. “I’m trying to chill on my day off, bruh. I’m up early in the morning trying to chill.”
“I see, and I get that,” Kanago tells him.
The officer tells him that they see a lot of gang activity in that area of Brunswick. He appears to concede that Arbery was doing nothing wrong.
“But when you get up and start getting all crazy on me, it makes me a little nervous, you know what I mean?” the officer says.
“I’m just so aggravated because I work hard, six days a week,” Arbery says.
The officers ultimately let Arbery go but told him he could not drive his car because he had a suspended driver’s license. After collecting his cellphone from the car, Arbery leaves on foot.
In the police report, Kanago wrote that Haney “attempted to deploy his Taser to protect himself and I from the possibility of death or serious bodily harm.”
Kanago also wrote, and is heard saying on the video, that he smelled the odor of “burned marijuana” when he put his nose up to the slightly cracked window of Arbery’s car. He also wrote that he saw “some sort of leafy substance” in the baggie in the center console.
When a supervisor arrives at the scene in the video, Kanago questions whether they can search the car based on “stems and seeds” he says he sees in the bag.
The lieutenant peers into the car himself, however, and states he cannot make out what might be in the bag.
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