A new twist in the Ahmaud Arbery trial defense

Glynn County Detention Center via AP

With the first week of testimony in the trial of the McMichaels and Roddie Bryan wrapping up, a bit of a twist in the storyline was potentially brought to light on Friday. A police officer who hadn’t previously been discussed as a major player in the death of Ahmaud Arbery was heard from and he offered some background information that both the prosecution and the defense appear to be trying to play to their advantage. Glynn County police Officer Robert Rash testified that in the weeks leading up to Arbery’s death, he had been “looking for” Arbery to issue him a verbal warning, though he didn’t know Arbery’s identity at the time. He also stated that he had been in contact with Greg McMichael multiple times and suggested he might “keep an eye on” the property belonging to Larry English, who also entered testimony during the trial. (ABC News)

A police officer testified Friday he planned to give Ahmaud Arbery a trespass warning for repeatedly entering a home under construction before the 25-year-old Black man was chased and shot dead by neighbors who spotted him running from the property.

Glynn County police Officer Robert Rash said he spoke several times to the unfinished home’s owner, who sent him videos of Arbery at the site between Oct. 25 2019 and Feb. 23, 2020 — the day Arbery was killed at the end of a five-minute chase by white men in pickup trucks.

Rash said he had been looking for Arbery, whose identity was unknown at the time, in order to tell him to keep away from the home that was being built.

We had been hearing various mentions of the people and places involved in this part of the story from the beginning, but the testimony from Officer Rash really fleshes it out more. For starters, the under-construction home that Arbery had been seen entering prior to the fatal encounter had been an ongoing topic of conversation for months at that point. Rash testified that Larry English had sent him videos of Arbery going in and out of his property for four months, usually after dark, and had asked the police to intervene. Rash said he had been trying to identify and contact Arbery to issue him a warning about trespassing on the property and that if he continued to enter the house without permission he would face arrest.

But at the same time, English testified that he had never seen Arbery actually take anything from the property, so the most they would have had on him was a misdemeanor trespassing charge. Still, the videos provided do seem to indicate that Arbery had more than a passing interest in a construction site than simple curiosity would explain. But that still doesn’t put the victim in a situation where he would be seen as some sort of dangerous threat to the community.

Even more interesting is the fact that Officer Rash had spoken to Greg McMichael on the phone multiple times. The officer had shared McMichael’s phone number with English, suggesting that Greg would be in a good location “to help watch the property” and be an excellent witness to call 911 if the need arose because of his background as a former police officer and investigator for the DA.

This raises the question of whether or not Greg McMichael would have even been fully aware of Arbery’s activities in the area had Rash not put him in the loop with English. Would he have even noticed Arbery running through the neighborhood? Still, Rash was very clear during his testimony that he never “deputized” McMichael to get involved in the matter personally and only intended him to help identify the then-unidentified Black man who had regularly been entering English’s property. He never suggested that McMichael and his son attempt a citizen’s arrest.

While all of this testimony certainly fills in more of the background as to what happened in the weeks and months leading up to Arbery’s death, I don’t know if it really improves the prospects for the defense. It may have been nothing more than a series of synchronicities that brought Rash, Greg McMichael, and Larry English into the same orbit with Ahmaud Arbery. But on February 23 of last year, neither Rash nor English was anywhere near the scene. It was the McMichaels and Roddie Bryan who made the decision to chase down Arbery and the rest is history. It sounds like Greg McMichael and Officer Rash were on a first-name basis and Rash could have been phoned to come to handle the situation, but that’s not how it played out. Still, it’s not hard to imagine that if there are any jurors who were already on the fence and leaning toward acquitting the defendants, this bit of background might push them even further in that direction. Testimony is expected to continue for at least another week, so stay tuned.