GBI reviewing additional video footage in Ahmaud Arbery case

GBI agents in the Ahmaud Arbery murder investigation are reviewing additional video from the Glynn County neighborhood where he was shot to death as they piece together the minutes before the fatal confrontation that has drawn national attention to Georgia and its justice system.

Investigators are reviewing the tape, recorded minutes before the Feb. 23 killing, to gain a better understanding of what transpired before the shooting.

"We are using video to put the timeline together to fill in the blanks of what happened that afternoon," said Scott Dutton, GBI's Deputy Director of investigations.

The digital video file was obtained by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution from a source outside the GBI on Friday, and investigators confirmed it was part of the case file when the agency entered the case on Tuesday.

"We are indeed reviewing additional video footage and photographs as part of the active case," the GBI said in a statement Saturday afternoon, several hours after the AJC’s article about the video posted online. "It is important to note that this footage was reviewed at the beginning of the GBI investigation and before the arrests of Gregory and Travis McMichael."

The video appears to be from a home security camera installed at a house about a block from the shooting.

A former Fulton County prosecutor who reviewed the video on Saturday said it doesn’t appear to alter the criminal questions facing the two men arrested in the case.

Lawyers representing Arbery’s family said in a Saturday statement that the security camera video proves Arbery did nothing wrong prior to the fatal encounter: “Ahmaud Arbery did not take part in any felony, had no illegal substances in his system, was not armed yet was shot three times with a shotgun at close range.”

Arbery’s family said he liked to jog in the area. One of the armed men who confronted Arbery that day later told police they pursued him because they thought he had been involved in earlier break-ins in the neighborhood.

The video shows a man wearing a white shirt and shorts, who appears to be Arbery, 25, walking down Satilla Drive on that Sunday afternoon. It shows the man walk into the garage of a house under construction and then walk around back of the house. The tape indicates that man was on the construction site less than five minutes, much of the time out of view of the camera. He did not appear to take anything from the house.

Soon after the figure in shorts and t-shirt enters the construction property, a man wearing what appears to be overalls walks near a stand of trees across the street from the site and the figure appears to be observing the construction site.

A minute later, after a car passes, a figure that appears to be Arbery comes out of a front door of the house quickly and runs down the road in the direction of Travis McMichael’s home on Satilla Drive.

McMichael, 34, and his father, Gregory McMichael, 64, were charged Thursday with felony murder and aggravated assault by the GBI.

The surveillance video appears to describe what a witness reported to police on a 911 call. At 1:08 pm that Sunday, the Glynn County 911 center received report that a man was in the house under construction.

The dispatcher responded: “And you said someone is breaking into it right now?

“No,” the caller said. “It’s all open, it’s under construction. And he’s running right now! There he goes right now.”

“OK,” the dispatcher asked. “What is he doing?”

“He’s running down the street.”

The dispatcher said she would send police.

Six minutes later another caller called 911 to say, “There’s a black male running down the street.”

The security video shows a person, who appears to be Arbery, continuing down Satilla Drive. Former Fulton prosecutor Manny Arora, who reviewed the video, said entry of a construction site is not necessarily a crime. At most, it may be a misdemeanor, unless anything was taken, he said.

Georgia law allows for a citizen’s arrest in a felony crime committed in one’s presence, said Arora, who is currently a criminal defense attorney in Atlanta. But a citizen can only use reasonable force to detain a person and deadly force cannot be used unless it’s to prevent a forcible felony or for self-defense.

Since the McMichaels initiated the confrontation with the weapons it will be difficult for them to claim self-defense and what appears on the security video doesn’t justify their actions, he said. The footage also demonstrates that police were not far from the neighborhood when the incident occurred, he said.

“If you initiate an assault you don’t get then claim self-defense if the other person reacts to them being assaulted,” Arora said. “From the information we have right now, this video doesn’t change the basis for the arrest.”

At the distant periphery of the video, two people can be seen around a parked pickup truck in a driveway a a few houses down from the construction site. The driveway is at or near Travis McMichael’s house.

Gregory McMichael told police that he was in the front yard when he saw “the suspect from the break-ins ‘hauling ass’ down Satilla Drive.”

Gregory McMichael ran in the house to alert his son, Travis McMichael. The men armed themselves and went after Arbery, according to Gregory McMichael’s police statement.

The McMichaels told police that they had decided to arm themselves and pursue Arbery because they suspected him of committing burglaries in the Satilla Shores neighborhood. They also told police they had seen Arbery on earlier surveillance tapes and were concerned that he could be armed because they said they saw him on another occasion sticking “his hand down his pants.”

Glynn County police records include no recent reports of house burglaries in Satilla Shores. The only report of that kind was a Jan. 1 theft of a handgun stolen from an unlocked truck parked at McMichael’s house.

On the video, the truck, which resembles the one driven by the McMichaels, can be seen driving off in the same direction Arbery had run. The man in the overalls walks down the street and appears to motion toward the truck.

Four minutes after the truck drives off, a police cruiser is seen on the video driving in same direction. Minutes later another cruiser drives by, followed by an EMT truck, a fire truck with lights flashing and more police cruisers speeding by.

A block away, out of view of the home surveillance video, the confrontation with the McMichaels had left Arbery dead on the pavement.

A video made public Tuesday, which has gone viral worldwide, shows Arbery running at a jogger’s pace on a road in the neighborhood. He slows as he approaches Travis McMichael’s truck, which blocked the street in front of him.

A struggle ensues as the McMichaels confront Arbery and three shots are fired. Arbery moves a few feet and collapses onto the asphalt.

After the case stalled for two-and-a-half months as two prosecutors recused themselves because of conflicts of interests, the GBI arrested the father and son Thursday afternoon after reviewing the case for less than two days.

GBI Director Vic Reynolds said Friday that his agency received the case Tuesday night and began investigating Wednesday. By Thursday afternoon agents had concluded they had sufficient evidence to charge the two men.

“I can tell you there was more than sufficient probable cause in this case,” he said. Both men are in the Glynn County jail after a judge refused to free them on bond Friday afternoon.