The Department Of Justice Is Investigating Ahmaud Arbery's Killing As A Possible Federal Hate Crime
The DOJ is also considering an investigation into Georgia officials' handling of the case.
The Department of Justice is investigating the killing of Ahmaud Arbery as a possible federal hate crime, authorities said Monday.
It comes after officials in Georgia last week arrested and charged two white men with murder after they followed and fatally shot the 25-year-old black man as he was jogging down a road in February.
"We are assessing all of the evidence to determine whether federal hate crimes charges are appropriate," Department of Justice spokesperson Kerri Kupec said in a statement on Monday.
"We will continue to assess all information, and we will take any appropriate action that is warranted by the facts and the law," said Kupec.
The Department of Justice said it is also considering Georgia Attorney General Chris Carr's request for a federal investigation into the handling of the case.
“We are committed to a complete and transparent review of how the Ahmaud Arbery case was handled from the outset,” Carr said Sunday in a statement. “The family, the community and the state of Georgia deserve answers, and we will work with others in law enforcement at the state and federal level to find those answers.”
Arbery was shot and killed Feb. 23 while out jogging in Brunswick, Georgia. The incident did not receive widespread national news coverage until last week, when video of his killing was made public.
After massive public outcry, Gregory McMichael, 64, and his son Travis McMichael, 34, were charged with murder and aggravated assault on Thursday.
Georgia's attorney general is specifically requesting a federal investigation into the "communications and discussions" between Jackie Johnson and George Barnhill, the first two district attorneys who were assigned to the case. Both recused themselves due to their connections to Gregory McMichael, who is a former Glynn County police officer and former investigator with the Brunswick district attorney's office.
But in the April letter in which Barnhill announced he was recusing himself, which was obtained by News4Jax, Barnhill said he did "not see grounds for an arrest" in the case because the suspects had "solid first hand probable cause" because they said they thought Arbery was a burglary suspect.
In a statement provided to BuzzFeed News, the National District Attorneys Association condemned Barnhill on Saturday for interfering with the case after recusing himself.
“We must strongly disagree with District Attorney George Barnhill’s decision to share his opinion of whether Greg and Travis McMichael should be arrested after he decided to recuse himself from the case,” the association said. “No prosecutor should inject his or her opinion into a pending case to the point where she or he becomes a potential witness and risks compromising the just outcome of a case.”
On Monday, Attorney General Carr announced that Cobb County Judicial Circuit District Attorney Joyette M. Holmes would take over as prosecutor on the case.
"District Attorney Holmes is a respected attorney with experience, both as a lawyer and a judge, and the Cobb County District Attorney’s office has the resources, personnel and experience to lead this prosecution and ensure justice is done,” Carr said.
On Saturday, the Georgia Bureau of Investigation said they were reviewing additional video footage of Arbery minutes before he was killed.
"We are indeed reviewing additional video footage and photographs as part of the active case," the GBI said in a press release Saturday. "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."
One video obtained by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution showed home security camera footage of Arbery walking onto a construction site of a neighboring house, spending less than five minutes there, and then jogging away.
The footage appears to depict what a 911 caller described that afternoon, with the caller saying they'd seen a man in the house, and then saw him running out of it down the street.
On Sunday, another surveillance video was obtained by News4Jax, showing Arbery inside the construction site, looking around for a few minutes before leaving.
"This video is consistent with the evidence already known to us," Arbery's family's lawyer, Lee Merritt, told CNN. "Ahmaud Arbery was out for a jog. He stopped by a property under construction where he engaged in no illegal activity and remained for only a brief period."
Arbery did not steal or damage anything on the property, Merritt said.
"Ahmaud's actions at this empty home under construction were in no way a felony under Georgia law," Merritt said. "This video confirms that Mr. Arbery's murder was not justified and the actions of the men who pursued him and ambushed him were unjustified."