A Georgia investigator alleged Thursday that a white man was heard using a racial slur after Ahmaud Arbery, who was black, was chased down and then shot and killed on a residential street in February.
New details emerged Thursday about the shooting during a probable cause hearing, the first court appearance for white father and son Gregory, 64, and Travis McMichael, 34, who are accused of shooting and killing Arbery while he was jogging through Satilla Shores, a neighborhood two miles from his home in Brunswick.
A third white man, William "Roddie" Bryan Jr., 50, captured the killing on video. Arbery, 25, was shot three times on Feb. 23.
The three men were arrested in May – more than two months after the killing – following a storm of public outcry after video of the incident was made public.
Arbery's death has also motivated Georgia Democrats to push to repeal the state's citizens arrest law, used by Waycross District Attorney George Barnhill to justify the decision not to arrest the McMichaels following Arbery's death.
House Democratic Leader Bob Trammell called the law "antiquated."
"The existence of the citizens arrest law confers with some people in our state the notion that they can take the law into their own hands with sadly deadly and tragic consequences," Trammell said Thursday. "We cannot allow that to happen anymore."
Richard Dial, a Georgia Bureau of Investigation special agent and the lead investigator on the Arbery case, told investigators Thursday he heard Travis call Arbery a racial slur as he laid on the ground after the shooting and before police arrived.
The McMichaels appeared in court from jail via video conferencing while Bryan waived his right.
The hearing concluded late Thursday with the judge finding probable cause for the charges against the McMichaels and Bryan and bounding them over to the Superior Court of Glynn County.
Arbery’s parents, Marcus Arbery and Wanda Cooper, were present for the hearing, according to Kimberly Isaza, the public information officer for the Cobb County District Attorney‘s Office.
Dial testified that Bryan first mentioned the slur in a May 13 interview with GBI, and to Dial's knowledge, Bryan had not mentioned it during previous interviews.
Dial alleges that McMichael used the same slur "numerous times" on social media and in messages. Body camera footage showed a Confederate flag sticker on the toolbox of his truck, Dial said.
Dial also alleges that Bryan had several messages on his phone concerning race that Dial called "very concerning."
"There's evidence of Mr. Bryan's racist attitude in his communications, and from that I extrapolate the reason why he made assumptions he did that day," Dial said. "He saw a man running down the road with a truck following him, and I believe he made certain assumptions that were, at least in part, based upon his racial bias."
On Thursday, Dial described what happened leading up to the shooting, saying that when Bryan first saw the McMichaels pursuing the jogger, he yelled "Do you got him?" and then joined the chase. Dial said none of them had called 911 at this point.
The McMichaels and Bryan pursued Arbery and at one point, they trapped him between their trucks as he repeatedly tried to change directions and escape. Bryan repeatedly tried to block Arbery's path and his truck "made contact," with Arbery leaving a dent in vehicle, Dial said.
Bryan started recording and eventually captured video of Travis McMichael shooting Arbery three times, Dial said.
“I don’t think it was self-defense by Mr. McMichael. I think it was self-defense by Mr. Arbery,” Dial said during cross-examination. "I believe Mr. Arbery was being pursued and he ran 'til he couldn’t run anymore."
Dial testified that Gregory McMichael, meanwhile, called 911 while he was sitting in the bed of the pick-up truck during the altercation between his son and Arbery. He was armed with the same weapon he carried when he was an officer with the Glynn County Police Department, Dial said.
Dial said the McMichaels and Bryan pursued Arbery for about seven minutes from the time a neighbor called 911 about Arbery's presence in the neighborhood to the time Gregory McMichael called police to report the shooting.
Gregory McMichael later told an officer responding to the scene that he had a "gut feeling" that Arbery was connected to burglaries in the area. Dial said he told police that during the shooting he said "don't shoot" to his son, "however the 911 call which recorded his statement does not reflect that." Video footage shows him "covering" his son with his weapon.
Ahmaud Arbery: Man who filmed Ahmaud Arbery shooting arrested
Details on the case
After the McMichaels were arrested, Gregory McMichael made a call from jail in which he described Bryan as "an ally."
Gregory McMichael, a retired police officer, told police that he and his son believed Arbery matched the description of a burglary suspect. They grabbed their guns when they saw him running in the neighborhood and told police they weren't sure whether Arbery was armed, he has said.
Glynn County police told USA TODAY that they had no records of home break-ins or burglaries between Jan. 1 and Feb. 23 in that neighborhood. Local media reported one car burglary.
Surveillance video shows Arbery stopping at a house under construction before the McMichaels pursued him. However, the owner of the property said nothing was taken and video shows several people had entered the construction site over the course of several months.
A memo from a previous district attorney investigating the case says that Gregory McMichael told police that Bryan was involved in following Arbery before the events on the video unfold. According to an arrest warrant, Bryan "did attempt to confine and detain Ahmaud Arbery without legal authority."
Before Ahmaud Arbery's death: Multiple people walked through construction site
Cobb County District Attorney Joyette Holmes was appointed to lead the prosecution last month. Holmes replaced District Attorney Tom Durden as lead prosecutor, who took over after Glynn County District Attorney Jackie Johnson and Ware County District Attorney George Barnhill recused themselves from the case because of their connections to Gregory McMichael, a former investigator with Johnson's office.
Federal officials were also weighing the possibility of federal hate crime charges, a spokesperson with the U.S. Department of Justice said last month. Georgia is one of a handful of states in the U.S. that doesn't have a hate crime prevention law.
Attorneys Frank and Laura Hogue, who are representing Gregory McMichael, did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Attorneys Robert Rubin and Jason Sheffield, who are representing Travis McMichael, also did not respond.
Contributing: Ryan W. Miller, USA TODAY
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Ahmaud Arbery killing: Georgia investigator describes racial slur