Ahmaud Arbery’s mother filed a federal lawsuit Tuesday alleging that the three Georgia white men charged with murder in her son’s death were acting as surrogate police officers when they chased him down and shot him.
The wrongful death lawsuit was filed in the United States District Court for the Southern District of Georgia on the first anniversary of Arbery’s death.
The three men charged with murder are named as defendants in the lawsuit: retired Georgia police officer Gregory McMichael, 64, his 34-year-old son Travis McMichael, his 50-year-old neighbor William “Roddie “Bryan, as well as former Glynn County Sheriff John Powell, former Glynn County District Attorney Jackie Johnson, Waycross Judicial Circuit District Attorney George Barnhill, and various police officers from the Glynn County.
Attorney Lee Merritt, who represents Arbery’s mother, Wanda Cooper-Jones, said the lawsuit was filed on Cooper-Jones’ instructions to pursue all avenues of justice on her son’s behalf.
“Justice for this family seems to go after the system that justified it, that allowed these men (the McMichael and Bryan) to run free for months, that they did not prosecute properly, that they offered racist explanations or why the shooting was justified,” Merritt. he told ABC News. “That’s George Barnhill, Jackie Johnson, the entire Glynn County Police Department. Ms. Cooper is a fighter and has instructed us not to stop on the road to justice.”
The lawsuit alleges that McMichaels and Bryan were “tasked by local police to respond to recent raids” in the Satilla Shores neighborhood in Brunswick, Georgia, where Arbery was killed on February 23, 2020.
Arbery was out for an afternoon jog in Satilla Shores, less than 2 miles from her home, when she stopped and entered a home under construction, according to the Georgia Bureau of Investigation. Surveillance video showed Arbery inside the unsecured home looking around, possibly searching for a water source, and then leaving, authorities said.
Prosecutors allege that the McMichaels mistook Arbery for a thief and Bryan helped the father and son chase Arbery in their trucks. Travis McMichael allegedly shot Arbery three times during a fight over his shotgun, prosecutors said.
Travis and Gregory McMichael were arrested on May 8, approximately three months after the murder, and charged with murder and aggravated battery. Bryan was arrested on May 22 and charged with murder and criminal attempt to commit false imprisonment.
All three men have pleaded not guilty and were ordered to stand trial later this year.
“These men believed they had the authority to pursue the man on the construction lot because they had been delegated by the Glynn County Police Department,” the lawsuit filed by Cooper-Jones alleges.
The lawsuit contains text messages from Glynn County Police Officer Robert Rush, who is also named as a defendant in the lawsuit, to the owner of the home under construction that Arbery entered on the day of his death, instructing him to contact with Gregory McMichael if his surveillance camera filmed strangers on his property.
The lawsuit alleges that Johnson and Barnhill delayed the arrest of the suspect because they had a personal relationship with Gregory McMichael. Both prosecutors withdrew from the case.
Attorneys for Travis McMichaels and Bryan said the lawsuit was expected.
“The civil lawsuit, like the criminal case, will show that Mr. Bryan acted within the law,” Bryan’s attorney, Kevin Gough, said in a statement to ABC News.
Travis McMichael’s attorney, Robert Rubin, also released a statement to ABC News, saying he has not yet read the lawsuit.
“Obviously, the plaintiffs’ attorneys are seeking a substantial sum of money from anywhere they think has a lot of money,” Rubin said. “I don’t expect Travis McMichael to give them the money they want.”
Gregory McMichael’s attorney did not respond to a request for comment. ABC News’ efforts to reach Johnson, Barnhill and Powell were unsuccessful.
Douglas Lantz and Kate Hodgson of ABC News contributed to this report.