SAVANNAH, Ga. — A video released this week shows police in Georgia attempting to search Ahmaud Arbery’s parked car in 2017 and when he declines to let them and begins to walk back to the vehicle, an officer tries to use a stun gun on him.
First obtained by The Guardian, the video released Monday shows Arbery repeatedly declining when a Glynn County police officer asks to search his Toyota. A backup officer arrives, and tells Arbery “don’t reach the car” and “keep your hands out your pockets.” This second officer then attempts to use a stun gun, but the device just clicks loudly, without apparent effect. Arbery is told to get down on the ground, and he goes to his knees.
When Arbery questions why the officers are bothering him, he’s told that the area is known for drugs, a suggestion that agitates Arbery, who said he is not on drugs and to check his “s—-!” The first officer then pats him down looking for weapons, saying this was just a check, not a search.
Absent probable cause or a court-issued warrant, police generally aren’t allowed to search a parked car without permission.
Attorneys for Arbery’s parents said in a statement Tuesday that the video “clearly depicts a situation where Ahmaud was harassed by Glynn County police officers.” They noted Arbery was not arrested or charged with any crimes.
“This appears to be just a glimpse into the kind of scrutiny Ahmaud Arbery faced not only by this police department, but ultimately regular citizens” like those who pursued and shot him, the attorneys’ statement said.
Officer Brandon Kondo, a Glynn County police spokesman, said the department “is not issuing any statements regarding the Ahmaud Arbery case, or previous interactions.” He referred any questions to the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, which is handling the shooting investigation.
In a police report, also obtained by The Guardian, officers said Arbery, who was parked when confronted, was free to go but could not take his vehicle because his license was suspended. The report said that after he left the scene they noticed Arbery’s passenger side window was cracked open and that they smelled what they believed to be marijuana and noticed a bag with a leafy substance inside.
Arbery was killed Feb. 23 after a pursuit by a white father and son who armed themselves and gave chase after seeing the 25-year-old black man running in their subdivision. More than two months passed before a video of the killing emerged, sparking an outcry. Gregory McMichael, 64, and Travis McMichael, 34, were then jailed on charges of felony murder and aggravated assault.
A judge from outside the coastal Georgia community where Arbery was fatally shot has been appointed to preside over trial proceedings of the two men charged with murder in Arbery’s death, including one defendant with close ties to law enforcement.
Court documents filed in Glynn County show that Superior Court Judge Timothy R. Walmsley was appointed to the case after all five judges in the legal circuit where Arbery was killed recused themselves. Walmsley is based in Savannah, about 70 miles (110 kilometres) north of where the slaying happened just outside the port city of Brunswick.
Gregory McMichael, a retired investigator for the local district attorney, told police he thought Arbery was a burglar. He said Arbery attacked his son before he was shot.
Arbery’s mother, Wanda Cooper-Jones, has said she believes her son was merely out jogging.
The delay in criminal charges and a cellphone video of the shooting leaked shortly before the May 7 arrests fueled national outrage over Arbery’s death.
Last week, defence attorneys for the McMichaels cautioned against rushing to judgment. They said they soon plan to seek a preliminary hearing from a magistrate judge in Glynn County at which new details might be revealed. They also plan to ask that the McMichaels be released from jail on bond pending trial. That decision will now fall to Walmsley.
No court hearings had been scheduled as of Monday afternoon.
Gregory McMichael worked as an investigator for the local district attorney for more than two decades before he retired last year. Attorneys for Arbery’s family and others have blamed the delay in arrests in part on the elder McMichael’s ties to local law enforcement. The McMichaels weren’t charged until after the Georgia Bureau of Investigation was brought into the case in early May.
Meanwhile, three district attorneys have passed on prosecuting the case, which now resides with the district attorney of Cobb County in metro Atlanta.
Russ Bynum, The Associated Press