Defendant ‘minimized’ involvement in Arbery’s killing, GBI agent says

William "Roddie" Bryan, center, waits for the trial to begin on Tuesday.
(AP Photo/Stephen B. Morton, Pool)
Caption
William "Roddie" Bryan, center, waits for the trial to begin on Tuesday. (AP Photo/Stephen B. Morton, Pool)

Credit: Stephen B. Morton

Credit: Stephen B. Morton

BRUNSWICK – Two law enforcement officers called to testify in the trial over the fatal shooting of Ahmaud Arbery delivered damaging testimony Friday about the three men charged in the 25-year-old’s death.

A Glynn County police officer who patrolled the neighborhood where Arbery was killed said there was no evidence he took anything from the nearby home under construction at the center of the case. Officer Robert Rash testified that had he caught Arbery inside the vacant house, he would have simply told him to stay off the property.

The state’s second witness, a GBI agent who interviewed William “Roddie” Bryan, said Bryan downplayed his involvement in the chase and shooting.

Bryan told GBI Agent Jason Seacrist he didn’t know if a crime had been committed when he hopped into his truck and chased Arbery through the Satilla Shores neighborhood the afternoon of Feb. 23, 2020. Bryan was on his porch when he saw Arbery running from Greg McMichael and his son, Travis McMichael. Bryan then followed them in his own pickup, the agent testified.

Bryan and the McMichaels, who are white, face murder and other felony charges in the highly publicized case. They contend they were making a valid citizen’s arrest when they chased a fleeing Arbery, who was Black, through their subdivision. The chase ended with Travis McMichael using his shotgun to kill the unarmed Arbery as they tussled over the weapon in the road.

Caption
Travis McMichael (left), his father Gregory McMichael and their neighbor William "Roddie" Bryan face murder and other charges in Arbery's shooting.

Credit: Body camera photos

Travis McMichael (left), his father Gregory McMichael and their neighbor William "Roddie" Bryan face murder and other charges in Arbery's shooting.
Caption
Travis McMichael (left), his father Gregory McMichael and their neighbor William "Roddie" Bryan face murder and other charges in Arbery's shooting.

Credit: Body camera photos

Credit: Body camera photos

Bryan, a former hardware store employee who videotaped Arbery’s death, tried to minimize his involvement in the case as Arbery’s killing sparked widespread demonstrations, said Seacrist, who interviewed Bryan multiple times before his arrest.

Detaining someone under Georgia’s previously existing citizen’s arrest law required reasonable and probable grounds of suspicion that a person was fleeing the scene where a felony had been committed. But Bryan told Seacrist he didn’t know why the father and son were chasing Arbery when he decided to join in.

“I’m thinking through my mind that maybe he’s done something, the guy running, and I just, I don’t know,” Bryan told the agent, according to the interview transcript read aloud in court.

ExploreFollow the AJC's complete coverage of the Ahmaud Arbery case

As the case gained national attention, Bryan agreed to meet with GBI investigators, Seacrist said. He also let the state agency search his cellphone and drove the agent through Satilla Shores to “reenact” the route he took that day. Video of that drive was shown to jurors Friday.

The McMichaels and Bryan were interviewed by Glynn County police after Arbery’s killing, but the department never made any arrests. The defendants were charged just days after the cellphone video became public and after the GBI took over the case.

‘You got him? Need help?’

Seacrist testified that Bryan admitted to chasing Arbery, but he said Bryan omitted some of the details he’d previously mentioned to Glynn County investigators.

“His statements to the Glynn County Police Department were more direct in his involvement to corral and box in Mr. Arbery during the event,” said Seacrist. “His statements to me minimized his involvement in that process that led to Mr. Arbery’s death.”

Bryan called out to the McMichaels as they chased Arbery past his house, according to the interview transcript.

“I said, ‘You got him? Need help?’ Something like that,” Bryan told the agent. “Nobody could hear me though, I’m sure.”

Bryan then grabbed his keys and joined the chase. He denied hitting Arbery with his pickup, though a Glynn County detective testified this week that fibers and a handprint were discovered near the bed of his Chevrolet Silverado.

Bryan told Seacrist he hoped to get a picture of Arbery.

“I figured if I slowed him down and got a picture that maybe something would happen in the end other than just him getting away and cops not knowing who he was,” he told the agent.

Prosecutors say Arbery ran for about five minutes before three shotgun blasts rang out and he bled out in the street.

Defense attorneys representing the defendants, however, argue the neighborhood was on edge following months of break-ins. Travis McMichael’s attorneys say he acted in self-defense when Arbery charged at him and tried to take his gun.

Greg McMichael wasn’t deputized

Arbery had been spotted entering the vacant property on multiple occasions in the months leading up to his death, and several neighbors — including the McMichaels — were aware of that, said Rash, the Glynn County officer whose beat included Satilla Shores.

Arbery’s first known visit to the vacant home overlooking the Satilla River was on Oct. 25, 2019. He would visit the home at least four more times, including the day he was killed.

Larry English, the owner of the property, lived about 100 miles away in Coffee County. He installed surveillance cameras around the vacant house because he was concerned about people taking things and children playing on his dock, he told attorneys in his deposition.

Rash was the officer who responded the first night Arbery was spotted and ended up giving English his cellphone number so he could call if he saw anything suspicious on his cameras.

“I contacted Mr. English and asked him to text me the video so I could see who we were looking for,” Rash said in court.

Arbery returned to the home the following month, and Rash said he eventually showed some of the surveillance photos to neighbors, including Greg McMichael.

Caption
Greg McMichael, center, listens to arguments on Nov. 9, 2021, in the Glynn County Courthouse in Brunswick, Georgia, where he, his son Travis McMichael, and their neighbor William "Roddie" Bryan are on trial, charged with the February 2020 slaying of 25-year-old Ahmaud Arbery. (AP Photo/Stephen B. Morton, Pool)

Credit: Stephen B. Morton

Greg McMichael, center, listens to arguments on Nov. 9, 2021, in the Glynn County Courthouse in Brunswick, Georgia, where he, his son Travis McMichael, and their neighbor William "Roddie" Bryan are on trial, charged with the February 2020 slaying of 25-year-old Ahmaud Arbery. (AP Photo/Stephen B. Morton, Pool)
Caption
Greg McMichael, center, listens to arguments on Nov. 9, 2021, in the Glynn County Courthouse in Brunswick, Georgia, where he, his son Travis McMichael, and their neighbor William "Roddie" Bryan are on trial, charged with the February 2020 slaying of 25-year-old Ahmaud Arbery. (AP Photo/Stephen B. Morton, Pool)

Credit: Stephen B. Morton

Credit: Stephen B. Morton

Rash said he thought the elder McMichael would have made an “expert witness” on a 911 call because of McMichael’s prior law enforcement experience. But he testified repeatedly on Friday that he never “deputized” McMichael or told him to detain anyone.

Just 12 days before he fatally shot Arbery, Travis McMichael spotted the Black man at the vacant home. He grabbed his father, his gun, and called the police, later searching for Arbery near the home alongside officers and neighbors.

During the search, Rash told the McMichaels that English recognized Arbery from prior surveillance footage, but told them that English had never seen him take anything.

“Nobody seems to know who this kid is, where he’s coming from,” Rash told the men. “But like he’s always, in all the times on the video that Mr. English sent me — he’s sending me one now — it’s always been just in there plundering around. He hasn’t seen him actually take anything.”

While Rash never told anyone to chase Arbery, attorney Bob Rubin noted that he didn’t seem to take issue with an armed Travis McMichael searching for the “intruder” alongside neighbors and police that night.

‘100 Black pastors’

Bryan’s attorney Kevin Gough ruffled more than a few feathers on Thursday when he called for the judge presiding over the case to ban Black pastors from the courtroom.

“We don’t want any more Black pastors coming in here,” Gough told Judge Timothy Walmsley after the Rev. Al Sharpton attended court proceedings the day prior. Gough argued that having “high-profile members of the African American community” in the courtroom could pressure or intimidate the jury.

Gough apologized in court on Friday morning, but not before Sharpton issued a scathing rebuke. The civil rights leader has called for clergy members of all faiths to join him outside the Glynn County Courthouse next Thursday.

Attorney Ben Crump answered the call Friday afternoon, releasing a statement saying he plans to bring 100 Black pastors to Brunswick next week. Crump, who represents Marcus Arbery, said his client’s son was “hunted down, cornered and shot for being a Black man jogging in a white neighborhood.”

“It is not illegal or inappropriate for Black pastors to be present to support the parents of Ahmaud or any other Black victims,” he said. “We are going to bring 100 Black pastors to pray with the family next week, and we welcome all those who want to show their support and add their prayers to ours.”

Attorney Jason Sheffield, who represents Travis McMichael, distanced himself from Gough’s remarks, calling them “asinine and ridiculous.”