Sam Levine and Oliver Laughland, The Guardian, May 18, 2020
Police attempted to use a Taser on Ahmaud Arbery, the slain Georgia jogger, after questioning why he was sitting alone in his car in a park one morning in November 2017, according to records and a police video obtained by the Guardian.
The video, obtained through a public records request, comes to light as law enforcement in the area faces scrutiny after Arbery was shot dead by two white men while jogging in February. Police did not arrest Gregory and Travis McMichael, who chased down and killed the unarmed Arbery, and a prosecutor assigned to the case wrote a lengthy memo explaining why the killing was legally justified.
That prosecutor, George Barnhill, eventually recused himself, noting his son had worked with Gregory McMichael in the district attorney’s office and they had worked on a previous case Arbery was involved in.
In the video an officer patrolling the area suspected Arbery of using marijuana, saying he was in a park known for drug activity.
Arbery, dressed in a green hat, winter coat and athletic pants, said he didn’t have drugs and refused to let the officer search his car. He told the officer he was relaxing by rapping in his car over instrumental beats and had the day off from work at Blue Beacon Truck Wash.
The incident, previously described by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, escalated when Arbery began to question why the officer, Michael Kanago, was hassling him. Kanago claimed he began to feel threatened by Arbery, later writing in his report that “veins were popping from [Arbery’s] chest, which made me feel that he was becoming enraged and may turn physically violent towards me”. Kanago requested help from a second officer.
“You’re bothering me for nothing,” Arbery said to Kanago, according to body camera footage. After Kanago told him he was looking for criminal activity, Arbery said “criminal activity? I’m in a fucking park. I work.”
The second officer, David Haney, arrived minutes later and screamed at Arbery to get his hands out of his pockets, which Arbery did.
Haney then attempted to tase Arbery, but his Taser malfunctioned, according to Kanago’s report. Arbery continued to comply with instructions from the two officers to get on the ground. Kanago had already searched Arbery for weapons before Haney arrived, and deduced he was unarmed.
“I get one day off a week…I’m up early in the morning trying to chill,” Arbery told the officers as he sat on the ground. “I’m just so aggravated because I work hard, six days a week.”
The incident eventually ends with police allowing Arbery to leave, but forbidding him from driving his car because his driver’s license is suspended.
In a joint statement to the Guardian, lawyers working for the Arbery family described the video as a clear depiction of “a situation where Ahmaud was harassed by Glynn county police officers”.
The lawyers said there was “no justifiable reason” for Arbery to be threatened with a Taser. “This appears to be just a glimpse into the kind of scrutiny Ahmaud Arbery faced not only by this police department, but ultimately regular citizens like the McMichaels and their posse, pretending to be police officers.”
Arbery was placed on probation in 2013 for carrying a gun at a high school basketball game and then charged with shoplifting and violating his probation in 2018, according to the Atlanta Journal Constitution. Arbery’s attorneys have said those charges have nothing to do with his killing.
The Glynn county police department was already facing local political pressure to disband before the Arbery shooting due to a string of recent corruption scandals.
In March the department’s police chief and three high ranking officers were indicted on perjury charges related to allegations they ignored evidence that an officer from the department was consorting with a local drug dealer.
The department was forced to disband a specialist narcotics department in 2019 after an investigator was found to have had sex with two confidential informants. The department found evidence of the misconduct in 2017 but failed to investigate. In 2018 the department lost certifications with two law enforcement bodies, the Georgia Association of Chiefs of Police and the Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement.
On Monday an outside judge was appointed to preside over the trial of the two men charged with Arbery’s murder, one of whom is a retired law enforcement officer.