Investigators who charged the two men called the evidence in the case ‘extremely upsetting.’
BRUNSWICK, Ga. — Law enforcement officials in Georgia said on Friday there was more than sufficient probable cause to justify charging two men with murder in the fatal shooting of Ahmaud Arbery.
The charges against Gregory McMichael, 64, and his son Travis McMichael, 34, came after the case was moved to a third prosecutor and the Georgia Bureau of Investigation was called upon this week to investigate.
“I can’t answer what another agency did or didn’t see,” Vic Reynolds, the G.B.I. director, said at a news conference on Friday. “But I can tell you that based on our involvement in this case and considering the fact 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.”
He called the video of the shooting, released this week, compelling evidence.
“It was extremely upsetting,” he said. “On a human level, it’s troubling.”
Mr. Arbery, a 25-year-old black man, was killed after an encounter with the McMichaels, who are white. Mr. Arbery was killed in Satilla Shores, a quiet middle-class enclave about 15 minutes from downtown Brunswick and a short jog from Mr. Arbery’s neighborhood. A police report said the McMichaels had grabbed two guns and followed Mr. Arbery in a truck after he ran past them.
Gregory McMichael later told the police that Mr. Arbery looked like the suspect in a string of nearby break-ins.
The shooting happened on Feb. 23, but the case did not receive broader attention until recently, after a video was widely shared showing the shooting. Officials on Friday said that the video had been “a very important piece” of evidence in moving forward with criminal charges.
“I think you have to remember our role is to do our best to remove our emotions from a case and look at facts,” Mr. Reynolds told reporters after the news conference. “But certainly when you see that, you become pretty enraged in watching it. You have set that aside and you have say, looking at all the evidence, is there probable cause here?”
Officials said the charges, coming months after the shooting, had not been driven by the surge of attention around the country, with elected officials, prominent activists and celebrities weighing in and urging action.
“We don’t let that influence the decision,” Tom Durden of Georgia’s Atlantic Judicial Circuit, the latest prosecutor to take on the case, said at the Friday news conference. “We have made the decision based on what we feel like is the applicable law and our interpretation of the evidence that has been uncovered.”
Mr. Reynolds said that the arrest warrants were issued and the two men were arrested at home on Thursday evening.
Mr. Arbery was jogging when the confrontation that ended his life began.
Mr. Arbery was wearing a white T-shirt, khaki shorts, Nike sneakers and a bandanna when he was killed. His friends and family have said they believed that he had been out exercising.
The video of the shooting, taken from inside a vehicle, shows Mr. Arbery running along a shaded two-lane residential road when he comes upon a white truck, with a man standing beside its open driver’s-side door. Another man is in the bed of the pickup.
Mr. Arbery runs around the truck and disappears briefly from view. Muffled shouting can be heard before Mr. Arbery emerges, tussling with the man outside the truck as three shotgun blasts echo.
The suspects have connections to local law enforcement.
Before becoming a focal point in the shooting death, Gregory McMichael had a long career in law enforcement in coastal southern Georgia and had recently retired.
He worked at the Glynn County Police Department from 1982 to 1989, and until last year had spent many years as an investigator in the Brunswick district attorney’s office.
Travis McMichael runs a company that gives custom boat tours. The authorities said he fired the shots that killed Mr. Arbery.
The police report was based almost solely upon the responding officer’s interview with Gregory McMichael. Two prosecutors recused themselves from the case because of professional ties to him.
The case has generated a wave of outrage and raised concerns about racial inequities.
The details of Mr. Arbery’s killing — and the fact that no one had been arrested in the months since it happened — led to a wave of outrage nationwide from figures as diverse as former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr., the basketball star LeBron James and Russell Moore, a prominent leader of the Southern Baptist Convention.
Both Gov. Brian Kemp of Georgia, a Republican, and his Democratic opponent in the 2018 governor’s race, Stacey Abrams, the former state House minority leader, had expressed concern about the case on Twitter this week. Mr. Kemp wrote that “Georgians deserve answers,” and Ms. Abrams wrote that “our systems of law enforcement and justice must be held to the highest standards.”
Mr. Biden, the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, added to the chorus on Thursday, saying that Mr. Arbery had essentially been “lynched before our very eyes” and that “these vicious acts call to mind the darkest chapters of our history.”
The case is the latest in the United States to raise concerns about racial inequities in the justice system. Documents obtained by The New York Times show that a Georgia prosecutor who had the case for weeks before recusing himself over a conflict of interest had advised the Glynn County Police Department that there was “insufficient probable cause” to issue arrest warrants for the McMichaels.
President Trump called video footage of the case ‘very, very disturbing.’
President Trump addressed Mr. Arbery’s death during an appearance on Fox & Friends on Friday morning, saying that Mr. Arbery “looks like a really good young guy” and that the video footage had been “very, very disturbing.”
Urging the authorities in Georgia to investigate and find out what happened, he also offered support for Mr. Kemp, who won his position as governor with the help of an endorsement from Mr. Trump.
“It’s in the hands of the governor, and I’m sure he’ll do the right thing,” Mr. Trump said. “You know, it could be something that we didn’t see on tape. There could be a lot of, you know, if you saw things went off tape and then back on tape. But it was a troubling, I mean, to anybody that watched it certainly it was a disturbing or troubling video. No question about that.”
The case has been handled by three prosecutors.
The original prosecutor who later recused himself, George E. Barnhill of Georgia’s Waycross Judicial Circuit, noted that the McMichaels were carrying their weapons legally under Georgia law. He also cited the state’s citizen’s arrest statute, and the statute on self-defense.
Mr. Barnhill argued that Mr. Arbery, who appeared to be unarmed, had initiated the fight with Travis McMichael, and was thus “allowed to use deadly force to protect himself.”
The case was next assigned to another district attorney, Tom Durden. Amid rising anger, criticism and national attention, Mr. Durden this week announced that he would ask a Glynn County grand jury to decide whether charges were warranted. He also asked the Georgia Bureau of Investigation to get involved.
It was not clear on Thursday whether the McMichaels had retained legal counsel. Previously, Gregory McMichael could not be reached for comment, and Travis McMichael had declined to comment, citing the investigation.
Gregory McMichael is a former officer with the Glynn County Police Department, and until his retirement last year, he spent many years as an investigator in the local district attorney’s office.
Rallies and runs took place nationwide on Friday to mark Mr. Arbery’s birthday.
On Friday, Mr. Arbery would have turned 26.
To commemorate his birthday — and to mark the date of his death, Feb. 23 — supporters are going for 2.23-mile runs. And at a time when many people can’t gather in person to rally, they are connecting instead under the hashtag #IRunWithMaud on social media.
By Friday morning, the hashtag had been used tens of thousands of times on Twitter, and people shared photographs of themselves outside in running gear, often alongside photos of Mr. Arbery, an ardent jogger.
“Happy birthday to Ahmaud Arbery,” the New Orleans Saints safety Malcolm Jenkins said in a video he recorded during his run on Friday. “Even though they arrested those two men, we’ve got to make sure they don’t forget his face and that he gets his justice in court.”
Before the arrests, a protest organized by the local chapter of the N.A.A.C.P. also had been scheduled for Friday morning outside the courthouse in Brunswick, Ga. Gerald Griggs, the chapter’s vice president, said the rally would continue as planned.
“We are going to send a message,” he said, “and the message is this: We will not allow unarmed African-Americans to be killed in this state with impunity. We will demand punishment within the fullest extent of the law.”
Friends and family reacted to the arrests.
Akeem Baker, 26, Mr. Arbery’s longtime friend who has been watching the case closely, said on Thursday night that he felt an “ounce of joy.”
“But I’m still uneasy,” he added. “It’s a small win, you know, but I feel like we still got to continue to push forward to get justice. To make sure everybody involved are held accountable.”
S. Lee Merritt, a lawyer representing Mr. Arbery’s family, said that Mr. Arbery’s mother, Wander Cooper, was grateful the police had made the arrests.
“She was very relieved,” Mr. Merritt said. “She remained very stoic as she has during this entire process. I believe that she is holding out for a conviction for these men.”
Jacey Fortin and Nicholas Bogel-Burroughs contributed reporting.