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DOJ Investigating Whether or Not to Pursue Hate Crime Charges in Ahmaud Arbery Case

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  • On Thursday, the two men who allegedly chased and gunned down unarmed black runner Ahmaud Arbery were arrested for his murder after walking free for more than two months after his death. 
  • On Friday, Georgia Bureau of Investigation Director Vic Reynolds said that the agency has “sufficient probable cause in this case for felony murder.” 
  • On Saturday, new footage showing Arbery at a house under construction emerged, though the lawyer for Arbery’s family argued he didn’t take anything and that this wasn’t enough to justify his death.
  • On Sunday, state Attorney General Chris Carr asked the DOJ to investigate local authorities’ handling of the case.
  • On Monday, the DOJ announced it was investigating whether or not to issue federal hate crime charges.

McMichaels Arrested for Arbery’s Death

On Monday, Department of Justice spokesperson Kerri Kupec said the agency is “assessing all of the evidence to determine whether federal hate crimes charges are appropriate” in the shooting death of 25-year-old Ahmaud Arbery.

That announcement is part of a series of rapidly-advancing developments in what began as a slow-to-develop story. For more than two months, Gregory and Travis McMichael walked free after allegedly chasing and gunning down Arbery. On Thursday, they were finally charged with murder. 

Their arrests come just two days after a video appearing to capture their confrontation leaked online. 

According to prosecutors, on Feb. 23, Arbery reportedly went out for a jog in the coastal town of Brunswick, Georgia. During that jog, someone called 911, saying they saw Arbery in a house that was under construction. Before the call ended, Arbery had already left the house. 

Shortly thereafter, 64-year-old Gregory McMichael also saw Arbery, believing him to be the culprit behind a recent series of break-ins. He and his 34-year-old son Travis reportedly grabbed a revolver and a shotgun before chasing Arbery down the road in their truck. Minutes later, Arbery was dead after being shot by Travis McMichael as the two fought over the shotgun.

Friday morning, Georgia Bureau of Investigation Director Vic Reynolds said the agency had found “more than sufficient probable cause in this case for felony murder.” 

At that press conference, Reynolds also addressed questions about potentially arresting a third person. That’s because, according to former prosecutor George Barnhill, another man joined the McMichaels in “hot pursuit” of Arbery. 

Currently, that’s believed to be William Bryan, who filmed that leaked video. Reynolds said that Bryan—along with others—is being investigated. While Reynolds said that more arrests could be made, he also stressed that the agency is going to be guided by facts before making any more arrests.

Bryan’s lawyer has argued that Bryan fully cooperated with the investigation and that he is simply “a witness to the tragic shooting.”

“There had been a number of crimes in the neighborhood, and [Bryan] didn’t recognize [Arbery] and a vehicle that he did recognize was following [Arbery],” that attorney said.

Seemingly countering that testimony, according to a police report, Gregory McMichael said Bryan “attempted to block” Arbery as the men pursued him but “was unsuccessful.”

Video of Arbery in Home Under Construction

On Saturday, several local outlets published more footage of Arbery just before his death. In that footage, a man that appears to be Arbery can be seen going into the house that was under construction.

Notably, he’s only there for a few minutes. He doesn’t appear to take anything. 

In a separate piece of footage, another person runs up to a stand of trees across the street and appears to be watching what’s going on. That footage then ends with Arbery leaving and running back down the street.

After this, the GBI confirmed this video to be part of its investigation, but it wouldn’t say if the first figure in the video was, in fact, Arbery.

Later Saturday, the attorney for Arbery’s family, Lee Merritt, said in a statement that his office does believe the person in the video is Arbery. Still, Merritt said that the existence of such footage is no justification for Arbery’s death.

“He engaged in no illegal activity and remained for only a brief period,” Merritt said. “Ahmaud did not take anything from the construction site. He did not cause any damage to the property.”

Ahmaud’s actions at this empty home under construction were in no way a felony under Georgia law,” he added. “This video confirms that Mr. Arbery’s murder was not justified and the actions of the men who pursued him and ambushed him were unjustified.”

In this time, more videos showing a man that could be Arbery at that house at night have also emerged—some of them reportedly from as far back as October 2019; however, they have not yet been confirmed to show Arbery, and it is unknown why this man was there. Currently, there is little information and large scale reporting on it.

According to Atlanta-based criminal defense lawyer Manny Arora, who spoke with the Atlanta-Journal Constitution, even though Arbery was in that home, that’s not necessarily a crime. At worst, it’s a misdemeanor, unless he was found to have taken anything. 

According to Georgia law, a citizen can arrest a person only if they see that person committing a felony. In most cases, they’re required to use reasonable force to detain a person. Deadly force can only be used to prevent a forcible felony or for self-defense.

Contrary to that law, the McMichaels allegedly initiated this attack with their guns. Arbery was unarmed.

“If you initiate an assault, you don’t get [to] then claim self-defense if the other person reacts to them being assaulted,” Arora said. 

In fact, the evidence that Arbery did not commit a felony in that home on Feb. 23 has been corroborated by the home’s owner, Larry English, who has told media outlets that he has never filed a police report for any stolen property or robbery. 

According to Glynn County police records, there haven’t been any recent burglaries in the neighborhood, except for one filed on Jan. 1 when someone stole a handgun from an unlocked truck parked at the McMichaels’ house.

Georgia AG Asks DOJ to Investigate Arbery Case

Sunday, Georgia Attorney General Chris Carr asked the Department of Justice to investigate how local authorities handled this case. 

Much of the criticism around the case and the lack of charges has been pinned back to the fact that not one but two prosecutors recused themselves for potential conflicts of interest because they had professional connections to Gregory McMichael, who is a former Glynn County police officer.

The second prosecutor in the case, Barnhill, reportedly advised police not to arrest the McMichaels as he was removing himself from the investigation.

“It appears their intent was to stop and hold this criminal suspect until law enforcement arrived,” he wrote to police. “Under Georgia Law this is perfectly legal.” 

Now, it is also being reported that Barnhill reportedly told detectives that Arbery’s killing was a “justifiable homicide.” 

That seemingly contradicts with GBI Director Reynolds saying the agency has “sufficient probable cause” for murder.

Monday morning, the DOJ said it’s considering AG Carr’s request, along with its investigation into potentially charging the McMichaels with a hate crime.

Among notable reactions, on Saturday, Jay-Z, Alicia Keys, Yo Gotti, and Meek Mill all penned a letter through Roc Nation, calling for justice in Arbery’s death. In that letter, the singers address Governor Brian Kemp, AG Carr, and the third prosecutor in the case, Tom Durden.

Though they say the McMichaels’ arrest is “a positive first step on the long road toward justice,” they add that such a development “only strengthens our resolve to see that justice is eventually served.”

In the letter, they also call for Durden to recuse himself and for Carr to appoint a special prosecutor.

Though it’s unknown what effect this letter specifically had, Monday morning, it was reported that Durden would be stepping aside. It was then announced that Cobb County District Attorney Joyette Holmes has been appointed to lead the prosecution against the McMichaels.

See what others are saying: (Atlanta-Journal Constitution) (New York Post) (The Washington Post)

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New COVID-19 Variant Could Become Dominant in the U.S. by March, CDC Warns

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  • The CDC warned Friday that a new highly transmissible COVID-19 variant could become the predominant variant in the United States by March.
  • The strain was first reported in the United Kingdom in December and is now in at least 10 states.
  • The CDC used a modeled trajectory to discover how quickly the variant could spread in the U.S. and said that this could threaten the country’s already overwhelmed healthcare system.

CDC Issues Warning

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warned Friday that the new COVID-19 variant could become the predominant variant in the United States by March.

While it is not known to be more deadly, it does spread at a higher rate, which is troubling considering the condition the U.S. is already in. Cases and deaths are already on the rise in nearly every state and globally, 2 million lives have been lost to the coronavirus. 

The variant was first reported in the United Kingdom in mid-December. It is now in 30 countries, including the U.S., where cases have been located in at least ten states. Right now, only 76 cases of this variant have been confirmed in the U.S., but experts believe that number is likely much higher and said it will increase significantly in the coming weeks. It is already a dominant strain in parts of the U.K.

Modeled trajectory shows that growth in the U.S. could be so fast that it dominates U.S. cases just three months into the new year. This could pose a huge threat to our already strained healthcare system.

Mitigating Spread of Variant

“I want to stress that we are deeply concerned that this strain is more transmissible and can accelerate outbreaks in the U.S. in the coming weeks,” said Dr. Jay Butler, deputy director for infectious diseases at the CDC told the New York Times. “We’re sounding the alarm and urging people to realize the pandemic is not over and in no way is it time to throw in the towel.”

The CDC advises that health officials use this time to limit spread and increase vaccination as much as possible in order to mitigate the impact this variant will have. Experts believe that current vaccines will protect against this strain.

“Effective public health measures, including vaccination, physical distancing, use of masks, hand hygiene, and isolation and quarantine, will be essential,” the CDC said in their report.

“Strategic testing of persons without symptoms but at higher risk of infection, such as those exposed to SARS-CoV-2 or who have frequent unavoidable contact with the public, provides another opportunity to limit ongoing spread.”

See what others are saying: (Wall Street Journal) (New York Times) (NBC News)

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Former Michigan Gov. and 8 Others Charged Over Flint Water Crisis

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Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder. (Al Goldis/AP)

  • Ex-Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder was charged with two counts of willful neglect of duty Wednesday for his role in the Flint water crisis
  • By Thursday, eight more former state and city officials were charged with crimes ranging from involuntary manslaughter to extortion.
  • Flint residents have long awaited this news. In 2019, prosecutors dropped all criminal charges against 15 officials and said they would start the investigation from scratch, citing concerns about how the special counsel had conducted its probe.

Rick Snyder Charges

Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel’s office said Thursday that it had filed 41 charges against nine former state and city officials for their role in the Flint water crisis.

The most high-profile figure to be charged was former Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder. On Wednesday, he was hit with two counts of willful neglect of duty.

He was the state’s top executive when local officials decided to switch the city’s drinking water source to the Flint River in 2014.

The switch was supposed to be a temporary cost-saving measure while a pipeline was being built to Lake Huron. However, the water wasn’t treated properly for corrosion, so lead-contaminated water was released into the homes of people all over the city. Because of that, 12 people died and at least 90 were sickened with Legionnaires’ disease.

Snyder appeared in court this morning via Zoom, pleading not guilty to the two misdemeanor charges. If convicted he could face up to a year in prison and as much as a $1,000 fine.

His charges alone are significant because they make him the first governor or former governor in the state to ever be charged with a crime for alleged conduct while in office.

8 Others Charged

Along with Snyder, eight others were charged, including a former state health director Nick Lyon. Lyon received nine charges of involuntary manslaughter, among others.

Richard Baird, one of Snyder’s closes advisors was changed for extortion, perjury, and obstructions of justice. Others who were charged include:

  • Jarrod Agen, Snyder’s former chief of staff and Vice President Mike Pence’s former communications director.
  • Dr. Eden Wells, a former chief medical executive for the state Department of Health and Human Services. 
  • Darnell Earley, former Flint finance director and state-appointed emergency manager.
  • Gerald Ambrose, former state-appointed emergency manager.
  • Howard Croft, former Flint Public Works Director.
  • Nancy Peeler, the state’s director of maternal, infant and early childhood home visiting for the health department.

Flint residents have waited a long time for justice over the water contamination issue. Prosecutors previously dropped all 15 criminal charges tied to the Flint case in 2019 and said the investigation would begin again from scratch.

At the time, they cited concerns about how the special counsel had conducted its probe.

It also wasn’t until last year that the state reached a $600 million settlement with victims, establishing a fund from which residents can file for compensation.

See what others are saying: (NPR) (The Detroit News) (Detroit Free Press)

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Three Lawmakers Test Positive for COVID-19 Following Capitol Attack

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  • At least three Congressmembers have tested positive for COVID-19 following Wednesday’s pro-Trump attack on the Capitol. 
  • Rep. Bonnie Watson Coleman (D-NJ), Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.), and Rep. Brad Schneider (D-Ill.) believe they contracted the virus after locking down in close quarters with numerous Republican lawmakers who refused to wear masks.
  • Jayapal and Schneider are calling for those who did not wear a mask to face consequences.

Rep. Bonnie Watson Coleman Tests Positive

At least three members of Congress have tested positive for COVID-19 after locking down in close quarters with other House members during Wednesday’s pro-Trump attack on the Capitol. 

Congress’ attending physician, Brian Monahan, warned that members may have been exposed during the lockdown. He recommended that everyone who was isolated inside should get tested for the virus. 

On Monday Rep. Bonnie Watson Coleman (D-NJ) became the first to announce that she tested positive. Watson Coleman believes she was exposed while in the Capitol lockdown. In her statement, she cited the multiple Republicans who refused to wear masks while inside. Video footage from Punchbowl News shows a Democratic lawmaker handing out masks and a handful of Republicans declining to take one. 

Watson Coleman is a 75-year-old lung cancer survivor. While she said she is only experiencing cold-like symptoms, she tweeted that per a doctor’s suggestion, she headed to a local hospital for antibody treatment. She also encouraged those who sheltered in place to get tested. 

More Cases Follow

Later on Monday, Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.) said she too had tested positive, also blaming a lack of mask-wearing in the Capitol. In a lengthy Twitter thread, she said Republicans created a superspreader event and demanded consequences for their actions. 

Many Republicans still refused to take the bare minimum COVID-19 precaution and simply wear a damn mask in a crowded room during a pandemic—creating a superspreader event ON TOP of a domestic terrorist attack,” she wrote. 

“Any Member who refuses to wear a mask should be fully held accountable,” Jayapal added. 

“I’m calling for every single Member who refuses to wear a mask in the Capitol to be fined and removed from the floor by the Sergeant at Arms.”

Rep. Brad Schneider (D-Ill.) echoed her frustrations on Tuesday after releasing a statement saying he has become the third House member to have tested positive following the lockdown. 

“Today, I am now in strict isolation, worried that I have risked my wife’s health and angry at the selfishness and arrogance of the anti-maskers who put their own contempt and disregard for decency ahead of the health and safety of their colleagues and our staff,” he wrote.

Like Jayapal, he is calling for sanctions against those who opted to not wear masks. 

Many health officials feared that this lockdown could lead to a surge in cases. They also worry that the mob itself could lead to a superspreader event as most of those who attacked the Capitol were not wearing masks and were crowding together both inside and outside of the building.

See what others are saying: (The Washington Post) (NPR) (NBC Chicago)

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