Atlanta Judge Examines Georgia’s Citizen’s Arrest Law In Wake Of Ahmaud Arbery’s Death

People react during a rally to protest the shooting of an unarmed black man, Friday in Brunswick, Georgia.

John Bazemore / Associated Press

Even though murder charges have been filed against the white father and son involved in the shooting death of Ahmaud Arbery, Atlanta’s Honorable Judge Glenda Hatchett is still livid. She said proper judicial procedures weren’t followed from the start in Glynn County.

“There have been so many shootings of unarmed black men that when we talk about them, we have to refresh people’s memory as to what case we’re talking about,” Hatchett said.

Georgia authorities have arrested Gregory and Travis McMichael after a leaked video of the incident in Brunswick, Georgia, caused national outcry.

The Georgia Bureau of Investigation reports both men are charged with murder and aggravated assault against Arbery. During a press conference, GBI Director Vic Reynolds said after agents spent hours late into Wednesday night reviewing the evidence, they determined there was sufficient probable cause to arrest the McMichaels.

Reynolds also addressed questions over if anyone else who handled the Arbery case would be charged.

“I will tell you that this case is an active ongoing investigation. Once this press conference breaks today, these agents behind me, in the crowd who are here today to observe, will continue their investigation, and they’re going to go wherever the facts take them,” Reynolds said.

“There’s more than sufficient probable cause in this case for felony murder.”

Hatchett was the lead attorney in the Philando Castile case in 2016. Castile was a black man shot and killed by a Minnesota police officer after alerting the officer who pulled him over that he had a licensed gun in the glove compartment of his car. The former officer, Jeronimo Yanez, was acquitted of second-degree manslaughter and two counts of reckless discharge of a firearm.

Hatchett said the Arbery case is similar, and there were too many red flags, such as the citizen’s arrest scenario described in a Glynn County police report. She said the citizen’s arrest law does not apply to this case.

“It has to be a misdemeanor or a felony that you witness or you have immediate information about,” Hatchett said.

“And the other important part under Georgia law is that if you do detain someone under citizen’s arrest, it has to be reasonable force. They came loaded with guns.”

Atlanta’s Honorable Judge Glenda Hatchett said proper judicial procedures weren’t followed from the start in the Ahmaud Arbery case in Glynn County. (Courtesy of Judge Glenda Hatchett)

The McMichaels told police that they thought Arbery was involved in recent neighborhood burglaries.

The video circulating on social media shows Arbery, who appeared to be unarmed, jogging in a white T-shirt and stopping in front of the McMichaels driving a white pickup truck that blocked the road. Both father and son were armed with guns. The camera refocuses to show Arbery running around the vehicle towards Travis, who is brandishing a shotgun. They tussle, and Arbery is shot several times. He died of his wounds. Neither of the McMichaels was arrested or charged for 75 days after police filed the report.

Greg McMichael is a former Glynn County police officer and former investigator for the Brunswick District Attorney’s Office.

“They should have been taken into custody immediately,” Hatchett said.

She spoke with “Morning Edition” host Lisa Rayam about Georgia’s citizen’s arrest law and how it couldn’t have applied to the Arbery case.

Correction: This report has been updated to show that Philando Castille was in possession of a licensed firearm when he was killed.

For a deeper exploration of Ahmaud Arbery’s story, listen to WABE’s podcast, “Buried Truths.” Hosted by journalist, professor, and Pulitzer-prize-winning author Hank Klibanoff, season three of “Buried Truths” explores the Arbery murder and its direct ties to racially motivated murders of the past in Georgia.