The family of Ahmaud Arbery has filed a multimillion-dollar federal lawsuit accusing county officials of covering up his death while protecting the three white men accused of killing the young Black man while he was jogging in Georgia last year.
Wanda Cooper, Arbery’s mother, filed the case in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Georgia on Tuesday. The three white men accused of the killing of Arbery in February 2020 — Gregory McMichael, 64, his son, Travis McMichael, 34, and their neighbor, William “Roddie'' Bryan — are named as defendants in the civil case.
According to the lawsuit, obtained by Oxygen.com, the three men “hunted” Arbery and carried out his “gruesome execution” based on a “gut feeling” the 25-year-old, who was on a jog near Brunswick in Glynn County, Georgia, was a burglar.
The suit was filed the same day Arbery’s family held a public memorial at a baptist church in Waynesboro, Georgia.
“One year ago today, Ahmaud Arbery went for a jog and never came back,” Ben Crump, a civil rights attorney representing his family, said in a statement sent to Oxygen.com. “There is guilt to go around and it extends far beyond those who hunted him down and shot him dead.”
Glynn County officials, who are accused of engaging in an active cover-up of Arbery’s death, are also targeted in the sprawling civil suit. Police Chief John Powell, former District Attorney Jackie Johnson, Waycross Judicial Circuit District Attorney George Barnhill, and a number of police officers have been named in court filings.
“The Arbery family deserves justice for the way law enforcement tried to sweep Ahmaud’s death under the rug and give a pass to the McMichaels and William Bryan,” Crump added. “Unless we root out the systemic racism and injustice that contributed to Ahmaud’s death, no Black person will be safe in Brunswick, Georgia.”
Johnson, a long-time acquaintance of Gregory McMichael, himself a former police officer, “instructed” authorities not to arrest him and his son, according to court filings. Johnson is alleged to have later “intentionally concealed” information related to Arbery’s death from the public. Barnhill eventually recused himself from the case as well, as his son had worked with Gregory McMichael at Brunswick prosecutor’s office.
“For nearly three months, Glynn County police officers, the chief of police, and two prosecutors conspired to hide the circumstances surrounding Ahmaud’s death and to protect the men who murdered him,” court documents stated.
Concerns have been raised about Glynn County police in the past. In 2019, the department was accused of an “ongoing culture of cover-up, failure to supervise, abuse of power, and lack of accountability,” according to a county manager report.
"They took a part of me they never going to be able to put back," Arbery’s father, Marcus Arbery, told WABE in January.
Robert Rubin, a lawyer for the McMichaels, didn’t immediately respond to Oxygen.com’s request for comment on the civil suit on Wednesday.
"Obviously, the plaintiff lawyers are seeking a substantial sum of money from any party they think has deep pockets," Rubin said in a statement sent to ABC News. "I don't expect Travis McMichael will give them the money they are seeking."
Arbery, who was gunned down on Feb. 23, 2020, sustained two shotgun blasts to the chest and later died.
Glynn County prosecutors initially declined to pursue charges against Gregory and Travis McMichael — and for months, the case remained dormant. On May 6, however, a video of the violent encounter was given to the press. Two days later, the father and son were arrested.
Travis McMichael, armed with a shotgun, opened fire on Arbery, while his father, clutching a revolver, watched from the box of their pickup truck, footage shows. As Arbery bled to death on the pavement, McMichael allegedly hurled racial slurs at the unarmed man.
In January, lawyers for the McMichaels’ filed a series of motions ahead of trial, attempting to ban the word “victim” when describing Arbery in court. Their attorneys had also taken issue Arbery’s family’s lawyer wearing a face mask displaying George Floyd’s name while in court. They’ve filed separate motions attempting to block court spectators from wearing clothing advocating for “Black Lives Matter” or that contains the phrase, “I can’t breathe.”
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