GBI says neighbor who videotaped Ahmaud Arbery's killing just as responsible as shooters

The director of the Georgia Bureau of Investigation said Friday that William Bryan, the neighbor who filmed Ahmaud Arbery's death, was not a good Samaritan or simply a witness as Bryan has claimed, but a significant player in the February killing of the unarmed black man.

"If we believed he was a witness, we wouldn't have arrested him," GBI Director Vic Reynolds said Friday. "There's probable cause and we're comfortable with that."

Bryan, who filmed the four-minute chase and shooting death of Arbery, was arrested Thursday evening.


The 50-year-old was taken into custody and charged with felony murder and criminal attempt to commit false imprisonment. Two other men, Gregory McMichael, 64, and Travis McMichael, 34, allegedly went after Arbery, trapped and shot him four times. They were arrested on charges of felony murder and criminal attempt to commit false imprisonment earlier this month.

Bryan, who is white, recorded the Feb. 23 confrontation as the McMichaels – who are also white – pursued Arbery while he was running through the Satilla Shores neighborhood, about 25 minutes away from downtown Brunswick.

"We don't go into a situation of this nature investigating a person or persons, we go in and investigate a set of facts and once we start turning stones over — sometimes there's one or two stones underneath that need to be turned over," Reynolds said.

In Georgia, a person can be charged with felony murder if he or she is alleged to have contributed to another person's death, even unintentionally, while committing another felony.

Reynolds also said that state investigators had found "a number of pieces of video" that linked Bryan to the case.

"I'm not going to speak specifically about what we took from him ... but suffice it to say there are a number of pieces of video that helped us get to this point."

Reynolds also commented on claims that members of the tight-knit community used social media to keep tabs on people coming into their neighborhood.

"Our agents have looked over a ton of social media posts and the majority of those will be made a part of this file, which will be turned over to the district attorney's office," he said, adding, "In any investigation, particularly one of this nature, where we've charged three people, there's a great accumulation of pieces of evidence that go into the deciding factors."

The GBI was called in to investigate Arbery's death two months after it occurred. Leaked video footage Bryan allegedly took showed the last minutes of Arbery's life. The fact that local law enforcement largely looked the other way after the death triggered national outrage and demands for accountability.


Since then, there has been a harsh light cast on the Glynn County Police Department, which seemed to sit on evidence. A deeper dive into the beleaguered police department by Fox News uncovered scandals and claims of corruption for years, including allegations that detectives tampered with evidence, lied to prosecutors and retaliated against whistleblowers.

When the GBI arrived in Brunswick, it took them less than 48 hours to arrest the McMichaels.

The quick arrest prompted even more anger and accusations of cronyism at the local police department. There was also a backlash about three district attorneys involved in the case.

Following the arrests of the McMichaels, Reynolds took a veiled swipe at the local probe into the shooting death of Arbery.

"I can't answer what another agency did or didn't see but I can tell you that, based on our involvement in this case, considering the fact that we hit the ground running Wednesday morning and within 36 hours, we had secured warrants for two individuals for felony murder. I think that speaks volumes for itself and that probable cause was clear to our agents pretty quickly," he said during a May 8 press conference.

Following the McMichaels' arrests, pressure ratcheted up for the authorities to arrest Bryan.

In the video taken by Bryan, who lives in the same neighborhood as the McMichaels, Arbery and Travis McMichael can be seen fighting over McMichael's shotgun as McMichael shoots him three times. Arbery spins around, tries to run but falls to the pavement.

The elder McMichael, who has ties to the police department, told law enforcement on the scene that he saw Arbery running through the neighborhood and thought he resembled a suspect that was responsible for recent break-ins.

Last week, both lawyers for the McMichaels said their clients are innocent and that the other side would come out and exonerate them. When pressed by reporters, they did not provide details.


On Friday, Cobb County District Attorney Joyette Holmes, the fourth prosecutor assigned to the case, vowed to "find justice."

Hinesville area District Attorney Tom Durden had the case before Holmes. He was assigned it after Glynn County District Attorney Jackie Johnson and Waycross Judicial Circuit District Attorney George Barnhill recused themselves.

Johnson, who is up for reelection, has been facing tough questions about how she handled Arbery's case.

Following her recusal, the case landed in Barnhill's lap. He was forced to recuse himself after Arbery's mother discovered via Facebook that Barnhill's son, a prosecutor in the Brunswick DA's office, had worked alongside Gregory McMichael in the same office.

Barnhill wrote a letter to Glynn County police that criminal charges were unwarranted against the McMichaels and Bryan. Barnhill claimed Arbery, who was unarmed, initiated contact with Travis McMichael.

In his recusal letter to Georgia Attorney General Chris Carr, Barnhill claimed, "This family are not strangers to the local criminal justice system. From best we can tell, Ahmaud's older brother has gone to prison in the past and is currently in the Glynn jail, without bond, awaiting new felony prosecution. It also appears a cousin has been prosecuted by DA Johnson's office."

News of Bryan's arrest was met with relief from Arbery's family and the lawyers hired to represent them.

"(Bryan's) involvement in the murder of Mr. Arbery was obvious to us, to many around the country and after their thorough investigation, it was clear to the GBI as well."


And though Reynolds didn't rule out additional arrests, he did say his investigators were wrapping up the "investigation into the murder."

"I don't anticipate us doing much more in the case before we button it up and give it to the district attorney's office," but added, "we go wherever the facts take us and if the facts took us in another direction or to another person we would go there. Right now, I do not anticipate that happening."