Audio recordings of two 911 calls have shed further light on the final moments before Ahmaud Arbery was shot dead by two white men while jogging through a neighborhood just outside Brunswick, Georgia.
The full recordings, obtained by the Guardian, come after new video footage showing Arbery’s killing in February was released this week, prompting widespread outrage and raising questions over why no arrests have been made. Transcripts of the 911 calls have been previously reported by local media.
Arbery had gone for a jog in Satilla Shores, near the Georgia coast, on the afternoon of Sunday 23 February. The 25-year-old was known around the neighborhood, and would sometimes wave to residents as he ran. But that day, a series of events unfolded that ended in his killing at the hands of Gregory McMichael, 64, and his 34-year-old son, Travis McMichael.
Lawyers for Arbery’s family have said his death was a “lynching” and requested it be investigated as a hate crime.
In one call, made at 1.14pm, the dispatcher asks for the address and the reason for the call. An unidentified man’s voice can be heard responding, “Uh, I’m out here at Satilla Shores. There’s a black male running down the street,” in an apparent reference Arbery.
In an earlier call at 1.08pm, a different unidentified caller reports “a guy in a house right now, a house under construction”. The dispatcher asks if the man is breaking into the property, to which the caller responds: “No, it’s all open, it’s under construction.”
The caller then says, “He’s running right now, and there he goes right now,” referring to Arbery, who was taking his usual jog around the neighborhood. The dispatcher asks: “OK, what is he doing?” The caller replies: “He’s running down the street.”
A few second later, the dispatcher says: “I just need to know what he was doing wrong. Was he just on the premises and not supposed to be?”
The beginning of his response is garbled, but when the background noise clears, there is no clear answer to the question. The dispatcher ends the calls shortly after, and says she will send someone by to check.
At 1.14 pm, the second call is answered at the call center. Following the first exchange between the caller and the dispatcher, the caller again did not respond to the dispatcher, instead yelling: “Stop. Stop that. Dammit. Stop.”
A moment later he shouts “Travis!” apparently addressing Travis McMichael.
The dispatcher attempts to redirect the man’s attention 27 seconds into the call, saying, “Sir, hello, sir,” but does not receive an answer. The 911 call continues to record for nearly five minutes.
Authorities have not released the identities of the callers. No one has been charged in the case.
Two prosecutors have recused themselves, citing professional connections to Gregory McMichael. Documents and state records show the elder McMichael is a former police detective and district attorney investigator in Glynn county.
The Guardian has contacted Gregory and Travis McMichael for comment.
An outside prosecutor in charge of the case said he wants a grand jury to decide whether criminal charges are warranted. But that will not happen until at least mid-June, since Georgia courts remain largely closed because of the coronavirus.
According to a police report from that day, the two men grabbed their weapons, a .357 Magnum revolver and a shotgun, jumped into a truck and began following Arbery after seeing him running.
Gregory McMichael told police he and his adult son thought Arbery matched the description of someone caught on a security camera committing a recent break-in in the neighborhood. Arbery was not considered a suspect in any burglary.
Gregory McMichael told police Arbery violently attacked his son. The video footage filmed by an anonymous individual and released this week contradicts that claim.
Georgia law says a person can kill in self-defense “only if he or she reasonably believes that such force is necessary to prevent death or great bodily injury … or to prevent the commission of a forcible felony.” The law also says a person who provokes an attack or acts as “the aggressor” can’t claim self-defense.
Arbery’s family has called for immediate arrests after the video was released this week.
“I saw my son come into the world,” Arbery’s mother, Wanda Cooper Jones, said. “And seeing him leave the world, it’s not something that I’ll want to see ever.”
The civil rights attorney Ben Crump, who is representing Arbery’s father, said the video calls into question the claims made by the McMichaels in the police report.
“They are heartbroken,” Crump said of the family. Of Arbery’s father, he added: “It’s just heart-wrenching for him that he has to look at his other son and daughter and try to make sense of it. He really thinks that his son was lynched.”
Crump said Arbery’s parents, who are separated, want the public to see the video, even they cannot bring themselves to watch it themselves.
Lee Merritt, an attorney for Arbery’s mother, said the justice department should investigate the death as a hate crime.
“The FBI has said it’s assisting,” said Department of Justice spokesman Matt Lloyd, “and as is standard protocol we look forward to working with them should information come to light of a potential federal violation.”
Republican governor Brian Kemp late Tuesday threw his support behind that inquiry. He tweeted: “Georgians deserve answers. State law enforcement stands ready to ensure justice is served.”
Georgia attorney general Chris Carr, also a Republican, said in a statement: “Based on the video footage and news reports that I have seen, I am deeply concerned with the events surrounding the shooting of Ahmaud Arbery. I expect justice to be carried out as swiftly as possible.”