Police enlisted suspect’s help months before Arbery shooting

A memorial at the spot where Ahmaud Arbery was shot and killed is shown Friday, May 8, 2020, in Brunswick, Ga.

Credit: ohn Bazemore/AP

Credit: ohn Bazemore/AP

A memorial at the spot where Ahmaud Arbery was shot and killed is shown Friday, May 8, 2020, in Brunswick, Ga.

Months before the shooting death of Ahmaud Arbery, retired Glynn County law enforcement officer Greg McMichael told local police he could help look out for an unwanted visitor to a home construction site in his neighborhood, records show.

An officer texted McMichael’s phone number to a property owner in the Satilla Shores neighborhood and said he’d offered assistance if anyone else came onto the construction site.

McMichael, 64, and his son, Travis McMichael, 34, are charged with felony murder and aggravated assault in Arbery’s shooting death. He was 25.

» COMPLETE COVERAGE: Ahmaud Arbery shooting

The construction site, a block away from where the Feb. 23 shooting occurred, has become a focal point of the criminal investigation to understand what was going on in the neighborhood prior to the incident.

The property, owned by Larry English, had a motion-activated camera system that had picked up unknown people going onto the site, including a young man who started entering at night in late October.

English’s phone received an alert and a text with a video each time the cameras activated. He often called police, sometimes texting videos to officers who went to the neighborhood to check on the property.

After one of those episodes on Dec. 17, English received a text reply a few days later from a Glynn County officer alerting him that McMichael lived nearby and had offered to help.

“Greg is retired Law Enforcement and also a Retired Investigator from the DA’s office,” Officer Robert Rash texted English on Dec. 20, offering McMichael’s phone number. “He said please call him day or night when you get action on your camera.”

This shows a Dec. 20 text from Glynn County officer Robert Rash to Satilla Shores property owner Larry English. English was having trouble, starting last fall, with people entering the property at night. The officer said neighbor Greg McMichael, a former law enforcement officer, was willing to help. English told police nothing was ever taken from the property. (Source: Elizabeth Graddy, English's attorney)

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McMichael retired last year as an investigator with the Brunswick district attorney’s office, and earlier in his career worked as a Glynn County police officer.

The text raises concerns about why an officer would encourage a citizen to contact a former officer if an actual police call for service was needed, said LaGrange Police Chief Lou Dekmar, a past president of the International Association of Chiefs of Police.

“I’m not aware of any accepted policy for referring someone that requires a police response to delegate that response to a former law enforcement officer who happens to live in the neighborhood,” said Dekmar.

Dekmar said it also gives the perception that McMichael had a relationship with the local law enforcement community tasked with investigating the shooting. It adds to the questions of why the GBI wasn’t called in immediately after the shooting, he said.

“If it’s not a real conflict, it’s certainly a significant perception of one,” he said.

Rash had no comment on Friday when contacted about the text, referring questions to his department. Jay Wiggins, Glynn County’s interim police chief, didn’t return a message seeking commment.

On May 5, a video that captured the shooting went viral. It showed the McMichaels, both armed, confronting Arbery. Several shots can be heard during the video clip, which ends with Arbery collapsing on the pavement.

The GBI entered the case more than two months later.

“In a perfect world would we have liked to have been involved in February? Of course,” GBI Director Vic Reynolds said at a May 8 news conference. “But it’s not a perfect world.”

He noted that, by statute, the GBI’s involvement in a local case must be requested and declined to comment on how other agencies have handled the case. The arrests came roughly 36 hours after the GBI opened a state investigation.

“Probable cause was clear to our agents pretty quickly,” Reynolds said.

The AJC reviewed a screen shot of the Dec. 20 text provided by English’s attorney, Elizabeth Graddy, who said the GBI talked to her client on Friday and asked questions about what was transpiring on the construction site in the months before the shooting.

English has told police nothing was ever taken from the property, records show. Graddy said English never enlisted Greg McMichael’s help. English was two hours away, tending to bee hives near his home in Coffee County, the day of the fatal shooting.

“He didn’t even remember receiving the text,” said Graddy, who said it was discovered in recent days as she was gathering information to assist her client. She said English has had serious medical issues in the past several months and hasn’t been to the construction property much this year.

Greg McMichael’s attorneys did not respond to a request for comment.

Arbery’s family has become aware of the text and their lawyer S. Lee Merritt told the AJC he has concerns about what it means about the events leading up to the killing and the aftermath with the way the investigation unfolded.

“If anybody was going to stop this from happening it was law enforcement,” Merritt said. ” Instead, they encouraged it.”