By BILL HUTCHINSON and SABINA GHEBREMEDHIN, ABC News
(AUGUSTA, Ga.) — The mother of Ahmaud Arbery filed a federal lawsuit on Tuesday alleging that the three white Georgia men charged with murder in the death of her son were acting as surrogate police when they chased him down and shot him.
The wrongful death lawsuit was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Georgia on the one-year anniversary of Arbery’s death.
Named as defendants in the lawsuit are the three men charged with murder — retired Georgia police officer Gregory McMichael, 64, his 34-year-old son, Travis McMichael, their 50-year-old neighbor, William “Roddie” Bryan — as well as former Glynn County Police Chief John Powell, former Glynn County District Attorney Jackie Johnson, Waycross Judicial Circuit District Attorney George Barnhill and several Glynn County police officers.
Attorney Lee Merritt, who represents Arbery’s mother, Wanda Cooper-Jones, said the lawsuit was filed on directions from Cooper-Jones to pursue all avenues of justice on behalf of her son.
“Justice for this family looks like going after the system that justified it, that allowed these men (the McMichaels and Bryan) to run free for months, that failed to prosecute properly, that offered racist explanations or why the shooting was justified,” Merritt told ABC News. “That’s George Barnhill, Jackie Johnson, the entire Glynn County PD. Miss Cooper is a fighter, and she’s instructed us to take no stops on the road to justice.”
The lawsuit alleges the McMichaels and Bryan were “entrusted by local law enforcement to respond to recent trespasses” in the neighborhood of Satilla Shores in Brunswick, Georgia, where Arbery was killed on Feb. 23, 2020.
Arbery was out for an afternoon jog in Satilla Shores, less than 2 miles from his home, when he stopped and went into a house under construction, according to the Georgia Bureau of Investigation. Surveillance video showed Arbery inside the unsecured house looking around, possibly for a water source, and then leaving, authorities said.
Prosecutors allege the McMichaels mistook Arbery for a burglar and Bryan helped the father and son chased Arbery in their trucks. Travis McMichael allegedly shot Arbery three times during a struggle over his shotgun, prosecutors said.
Travis and Gregory McMichael were arrested on May 8, about three months after the killing, and charged with murder and aggravated assault. Bryan was arrested May 22 and charged with felony murder and criminal attempt to commit false imprisonment.
All three men have pleaded not guilty and have been ordered to stand trial later this year.
“These men believed that they had authority to pursue the man on the Construction Lot because they had been deputized 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 being constructed that Arbery entered the day he died, directing him to contact Gregory McMichael if his surveillance camera filmed strangers on his property.
The lawsuit alleges that Johnson and Barnhill each delayed arresting the suspect because they each had a personal relationship with Gregory McMichael. Both prosecutors recused themselves from the case.
Attorneys for Travis McMichaels and Bryan both said the lawsuit was expected.
“The civil suit, 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 lawyer, Robert Rubin, also issued a statement to ABC News, saying, he has yet to read the lawsuit.
“Obviously, the plaintiff lawyers are seeking a substantial sum of money from any party they think has deep pockets,” Rubin said. “I don’t expect Travis McMichael will give them the money they are seeking.”
Gregory McMichael’s attorney did not respond to a request for comment. Efforts by ABC News to reach Johnson, Barnhill and Powell were not successful.
ABC News’ Douglas Lantz and Kate Hodgson contributed to this report.
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