Moments before Ahmaud Arbery was shot dead on a public street on a Sunday afternoon in February, 911 dispatchers received the first of two calls about his presence in the Satilla Shores neighborhood.
Fifty seconds into that call, the dispatcher interrupted the man with a pressing question.
“I just need to know what he was doing wrong,” the dispatcher said to the caller at 1:08 p.m.
Shortly afterward, retired Brunswick Judicial Circuit District Attorney investigator Gregory McMichael and his adult son, Travis McMichael, armed themselves and pursued Arbery down Satilla Drive in a pickup truck, according to a Glynn County police report. A block away at Satilla Drive and Buford Road, Travis McMichael stepped out of the truck with a shotgun and confronted Arbery, 25, the report said. Travis McMichael fired the gun twice during the ensuing struggle; Arbery died on the spot.
Two months later, there is no resolution to the case, which now sits with Hinesville District Attorney Tom Durden. The case originally was assigned by the state Attorney General to Ware County DA George E. Barnhill. Brunswick DA Jackie Johnson had cited a conflict of interest, noting McMichael’s more than 20 years as an investigator with her office. McMichael served seven years prior to that as a Glynn County police officer.
Ware County DA Barnhill stepped away from the case early this month at the request of Arbery’s family. Barnhill said the family cited a conflict because his son, George F. Barnhill, is an attorney with the Brunswick DA.
The state attorney turned the case over to Durden on April 13. “Jackie (Johnson’s) office delivered the files to me and things are moving along,” Durden told The News the next day.
Durden could not be reached Tuesday for a question on the progress of his investigation.
As for the emergency call on the afternoon of Feb. 23, the Glynn-Brunswick 911 dispatcher never got a clear answer to her question. The man said Arbery was walking inside an open home that apparently had been under construction for some time, according to transcripts. Also, Arbery ran.
The 911 center received a second call from the Satilla Shores neighborhood moments later, at 1:14 p.m.
“I’m out here at Satilla Shores,” the caller said. “There’s a black male running down the street.”
Arbery was black. The McMichaels are white.
Arbery was an enthusiastic runner, according to friends and family. The former all-star linebacker at Brunswick High was often seen jogging in the community, according posts on the Facebook page, “I Run With Maud #JusticeForAhmaud).”
“He loved to run,” Paul Dix, the brother-in-law of Arbery’s mother, Wanda Cooper, told The News on Tuesday. “He loved to stay in shape. He loved to get out on the road and run, just keep running.”
Both callers to 911 that day reported seeing Arbery running. The identities of the callers were redacted from the transcript of the 911 call provided to The News.
Arbery had been seen recently on surveillance video in the neighborhood, according to the first caller. Neither call specifies a crime Arbery might have committed.
“There’s a guy in the house right now; it’s under construction,” the man told the dispatcher.
The man then gave her an address.
“And you said someone’s breaking into it right now?” the dispatcher asked.
“No,” the man replied, “it’s all open. It’s under construction … “
The man interrupted to say Arbery was leaving. “And there he goes right now.”
“Ok,” the dispatcher said, “What is he doing?”
“He’s running down the street,” the man said. The next sentence is garbled.
“That’s fine,” the dispatcher said. “I’ll get (police) out there. I just need to know what he was doing wrong. Was he just on the premises and not supposed to be?”
The next sentence is garbled. “And he’s been caught on camera a bunch at night. It’s kind of an ongoing thing. The man building the house has got heart issues. I think he’s not going to finish it.”
“Ok, that’s fine,” the dispatcher said. “And you said he was a male in a black T-shirt?”
“White T-shirt,” the man said. “Black guy, white T-shirt. He’s done run into the neighborhood again.”
The next 911 call from Satilla Shores came in at 1:14 p.m.
“I’m out here at Satilla Shores,” the man said. “There’s a black male running down the street.”
“Where at Satilla Shores?” the dispatcher asked.
“I don’t know what street we’re on,” the man replied.
“Stop!” he can be heard shouting. “Watch that. Stop, damn it! Stop!”
That call went blank for several minutes, with the dispatcher trying several times to reach the caller. The call eventually hangs up.
At some point during all this, Gregory McMichael was outside at his son’s Satilla Drive home when he saw Arbery running down the street, he told police. He ran inside, armed himself and told his son to grab a gun, Gregory McMichael told police. He said they had seen Arbery on surveillance cameras. The two men got into his son’s pickup truck and caught up to Arbery at Burford Road and Satilla Drive, he told police. After asking Arbery several times to stop, Travis McMichael stepped out of the truck with a shotgun, Gregory McMichael told police.
Gregory McMichael told police a struggle for the gun ensued between Travis McMichael and Arbery, during which his son fired twice. Arbery died at the scene.
After the fatal shooting, Gregory McMichael told responding police that “there have been several break-ins in the neighborhood … “ the police report said.
Only one burglary, an automobile burglary, was reported to county police in the Satilla Shores neighborhood between Jan. 1 and Feb. 23, according to documents obtained by The News in a public records request to the Glynn County Police Department. It involved a Smith & Wesson M&P 9 mm pistol stolen Jan. 1 from a pickup truck outside 230 Satilla Drive, the home of Travis McMichael, according to the police report.
Gregory McMichael moved the 2011 Ford F-150 from one spot to another in front of the home at around 9:30 a.m. Jan. 1, forgetting to lock it afterward, Travis McMichael told police. About an hour later, Travis McMichael found the handgun’s empty holster on the unlocked truck’s seat, the report said.
Paul Dix recalled the time Arbery intercepted a pass at the 20-year-old line during a high school football game in Augusta. “He went 80 yards to the end zone,” Dix said. “They couldn’t catch him. Couldn’t touch him. I’ve tried jogging with him a few times. Leaves me gasping after a quarter mile. He’s a runner.”
Dix paused, perhaps realizing he had just spoken in the present tense of the young man he had considered a nephew.
“It’s a dark wound in our whole family,” the Augusta resident said. “It makes us feel miserable. Not only for his death, but for what happened. How it happened. Why it happened.”