3 Georgia men charged with hate crimes in death of jogger Ahmaud Arbery

(From left) William Roderick Bryan, Gregory McMichael and his son, Travis McMichael. PHOTOS: AFP/GLYNN COUNTY SHERIFF'S OFFICE

WASHINGTON (REUTERS) - US prosecutors charged three white men in Georgia on Wednesday (April 28) with federal hate crimes and attempted kidnapping in last year's slaying of Ahmaud Arbery, a black man who was gunned down as he was out jogging through a suburban neighbourhood.

The Justice Department said that former police officer Gregory McMichael, 65, his son Travis McMichael, 35, and William "Roddie" Bryan, 51, were each charged with one count of interference with rights and with one count of attempted kidnapping.

Travis and Gregory McMichael were also each charged with using firearms to carry out acts of violence in the fatal shooting of Arbery on Feb 23, 2020, which lawyers for his family have condemned as vigilante murder tantamount to a lynching.

Attorneys for the McMichaels were not immediately available for comment. Bryan's attorney, Kevin Gough, said he was "disappointed" by the Justice Department's case and said his client "has committed no crime".

President Joe Biden's administration has since his inauguration three months ago stepped up enforcement of federal civil rights laws, which activists complained were neglected during his predecessor Donald Trump's presidency.

The McMichaels and Bryan already face state criminal charges of malice murder, felony murder, aggravated assault, false imprisonment and criminal attempt to commit a felony.

A trial date for the state charges has yet to be set.

The McMichaels had told police they suspected Arbery was involved in a string of neighbourhood burglaries when they spotted him running in the street and said they chased him down in their pickup truck to make a citizen's arrest.

Bryan had come forward as the man who recorded video of the slaying and turned the footage over to investigators before it emerged on social media and went viral in May 2020, weeks before George Floyd, a black man arrested in Minneapolis, died under the knee of a white policeman.

Lawyers for Bryan have insisted their client was merely a witness to the shooting of Arbery.

The footage of Arbery's killing showed him jogging down a two-lane street, then being shot as he was confronted by two armed men who had stopped their pickup truck in his path.

The footage stoked outrage from civil rights activists. They pointed to the case - with no arrests for 10 weeks after the incident - as the latest example of law enforcement in the United States allowing white perpetrators to go unpunished for the unjustified killing of a black man.

Arbery's case, together with the high-profile killing of Floyd and other African-Americans at the hands of law enforcement, fueled months of nationwide protests against racial injustice and police brutality in the United States.

A Minneapolis jury earlier this month convicted former officer Derek Chauvin of murder and manslaughter in Floyd's death.

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