Two of the white men convicted in the vigilante-style murder of Ahmaud Arbery were told by a police officer before the shooting that there was no evidence that the 25-year-old Black man had stolen anything from a house under construction in their Brunswick, Ga. neighborhood.
The Associated Press reported that Glynn County police Officer Robert Rash said this in his testimony Thursday (Feb. 17) at the federal hate crimes trial of father and son Greg and Travis McMichael and a neighbor, William “Roddie” Bryan.
The McMichaels had known that a young Black man entered several times into the unfinished home. When Arbery, out for a jog, ran past their home on Feb. 23, 2020, they grabbed guns and pursued him in a pickup truck. Bryan joined in the chase. The pursuit ended with Travis McMichael fatally shooting an unarmed Arbery. However, their suspicion that Arbery stole something was unfounded.
“Nothing has been taken and the only crime we had was trespassing,” Rash testified in the U.S. District Court in Georgia.
On November 24, 2021, a state jury convicted the three men of murdering Arbery. A judge sentenced them on Jan. 7 to life in prison. Now they’re standing trial again in a separate case brought by federal prosecutors. They are accused of violating Arbery’s civil rights and targeting him because he was Black.
Rash investigated the construction site–12 days before the shooting–after Travis McMichael called the police to report that he saw a Black man enter the unfinished house. The Black man turned out to be Arbery, but he left the site before the police arrived. Rash told the homeowner that surveillance footage showed that Arbery did not steal anything.
“He hasn’t seen him actually take anything,” Rash also told the McMichaels, the officer’s body camera footage showed.
Rash testified Travis McMichael was inaccurate when he told the 911 operator that there were “a lot of burglaries and break-ins” lately in their neighborhood. The officer stated that there wasn’t a single burglary in the neighborhood for a year before the shooting. However, he testified that guns and other items were stolen from unlocked vehicles, including a handgun that belonged to Travis McMichael.
Video footage showed a white male suspect involved in one of those incidents, Rash stated, adding that a white couple was also seen on video carrying a bag and entering the same unfinished house that Arbery entered.
In testimony on Wednesday (Feb. 16), an FBI witness showed the jury evidence that Travis McMichael and Bryan had more than two dozen conversations with other people in which they repeatedly used racial slurs about Black people in text messages and social media posts. The evidence included Travis McMichael making violent comments about Black people and frequently using the N-word.
Two months after the shooting, investigators photographed a Confederate flag sticker on a toolbox in Travis McMichael’s truck, Georgia Bureau of Investigation agent Jason Seacrist testified Thursday (Feb. 17).
A vanity license plate with Georgia’s previous state flag that featured a Confederate emblem was removed from the truck when state investigators photographed it in May 2020. But the plate with the emblem was recorded on police body camera footage on the day of the shooting.
Georgia removed the racially charged bars and stars symbol of the Confederacy from its state flag in 2001, but it still appears in many places, including on the license plates.
In their defense on Thursday, Greg McMichael’s attorney, A.J. Balbo, insisted that Arbery’s actions–not his race–made him seem suspicious to his clients. He pointed out that Arbery entered the unfinished house several times at night.
“Would you agree with me, sir, that the fact that Mr. Arbery had been in the residence in the dark in October, in November, in December and in February is a little suspicious?” Balbo asked Rash, who agreed.