One of the men charged in the shooting death of Ahmaud Arbery reportedly had ties to the victim years before the deadly incident.
According to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Waycross Judicial Circuit District Attorney George Barnhill confirmed former Georgia police officer Gregory McMichael was involved "with the previous prosecution" of Arbery. The DA reportedly revealed this information in a letter recusing himself from the case. Barnhill claimed he had learned his son—a prosecutor in the Brunswick DA's office—investigated Arbery along with Gregory McMichael, who was working as an investigator with the Brunswick DA's office. The AJC reports Barnhill sent his recusal letter "three to four weeks" after learning about his son and Gregory McMichael's ties to Arbery.
Per the publication:
[Barnhill] didn’t say why he waited so long to recuse himself but claimed “a local 'rabble rouser' has taken up this cause and begun publishing wild and factually incorrect and legally wrong accusations on Facebook and other social media formats calling for marches and physical affronts be made against the McMichaels at their homes, and my son's home in Brunswick etc.”
While in high school, Arbery reportedly received five years' probation after he was charged with taking a weapon to campus and obstructing a law enforcement officer. In 2018, he was reportedly convicted of shoplifting and violating his probation.
According to AJC, Barnhill referenced the Arbery family's alleged criminal history in his recusal letter, writing: "This family are not strangers to the local criminal justice system. From best we can tell, Ahmaud's older brother has gone to prison in the past and is currently in the Glynn jail, without bond, awaiting new felony prosecution. It also appears a cousin has been prosecuted by DA Johnson's office."
Lee Merritt, the attorney representing Arbery's family, questioned why this information was included in Barnhill's letter.
"This speaks to the wider issue of mass incarceration," Merritt said. "If black people have any kind of criminal record somehow that justifies their murder."
The AJC report was published shortly before Gregory McMichael and his 34-year-old son Travis McMichael were arrested Friday for the Feb. 23 shooting of Arbery. The victim was reportedly jogging in a Georgia residential area when the McMichaels grabbed two firearms and began pursuing him in a truck. The McMichaels told police they believed Arbery was a burglary suspect and intended to make a citizens arrest. Newly surfaced video shows the two men confronting Arbery as he was jogging on the road. Moments later, Travis McMichael fired at least three shots before Arbery was seen falling to the pavement.
Georgia officials initially refused to charge or arrest the McMichaels, claiming the men had acted under the state's self-defense and citizens arrest statutes. However, shortly after footage of the shooting surfaced online, Atlantic Judicial Circuit DA Tom Durden recommended the case be sent to a grand jury.
According to AJC, the footage was taken by William Bryan, a neighbor who was allegedly helping the McMichaels chase down Arbery in a separate vehicle. The Georgia Bureau of Investigation confirmed Friday that Bryan was also under investigation. The agency's director Vic Reynolds said authorities have yet to determine whether or not Bryan will be arrested.
"We're going to go wherever the evidence takes us," Reynolds said, as reported by NBC News. "Let's say, hypothetically, if we believe tomorrow or in a week or three weeks there's probable cause for an arrest, then we'll do it. If we don't believe there is, then we won't."
The McMichaels were each charged with murder and aggravated assault in Arbery's shooting death. The men made their first court appearance Friday and are being held in the county jail without bond.