The men accused of following and eventually killing 25-year-old Ahmaud Arbery as he jogged through his Georgia neighborhood last February will now face federal hate crime charges in the murder that helped set off a summer of protests decrying police brutality against Black Americans.
George McMichael, 65, his son Travis McMichael, 35, and William “Roddie” Bryan, 51, have all been charged with one count of interference with rights and one count of attempted kidnapping, according to the U.S. Department of Justice. The two charges accuse the men of interfering with Arbery’s right to use a public street because he was Black.
Additionally, the two McMichaels will face one count each of using, carrying, and brandishing a firearm during and in relation to a crime of violence.
In addition to the new federal charges, the McMichaels and Bryan still face the state charges of aggravated assault and murder that were brought against them by the Georgia Bureau of Investigation last May.
The federal indictments mark the boldest move yet by President Joe Biden’s new Justice Department to hold those responsible for the deaths of unarmed Black Americans accountable. Earlier this week, the department announced plans to probe the Louisville Police Department, spurred by the police killing of 26-year-old Breonna Taylor during the botched execution of a warrant in March 2020.
Last week, U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland also announced a probe into the police practices of the Minneapolis Police Department a day after Derek Chauvin was convicted on all counts in the murder of George Floyd.
On the evening of February 23, 2020, Arbery was jogging through Brunswick, Georgia, when he stopped to look at a construction site along his path. The McMichaels spotted the 25-year-old Black man and suspected that he was tied to a string of burglaries in the area. Bryan, who happened to be working in his yard when he saw McMichaels pursuing a man he didn’t recognize, would join the two men in the chase.
Armed with a pistol and a shotgun, the McMichaels tailed Arbery in their truck in hopes of carrying out a citizen’s arrest, and Bryan followed in his vehicle. The McMichaels eventually pulled up and blocked Arbery’s path. After a brief scuffle over the shotgun Travis was holding, three shots were fired, fatally wounding Arbery. Bryan, who stood feet away from the struggle, recorded most of the encounter on his phone.
Though they initially received no charges after a local district attorney determined their actions were justified in accordance with Georgia’s citizen’s arrest statute, the McMichaels and Bryan were arrested in May 2020 after the Georgia Bureau of Investigation took over the case and responded to national outcry.