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Georgia police charge man who recorded Ahmaud Arbery’s death with felony murder

They’re not charging him because of the recording, of course. The state’s entire case rests on that footage.

They’re charging him because he allegedly followed Arbery in his own car after he saw Greg and Travis McMichael take off after him. Although “follow” is an exceedingly polite way of describing what he did, if you believe the police report.

Critics have spent weeks demanding that William “Roddie” Bryan join the McMichaels in jail. Yesterday they got their wish.

In a news release, the GBI said it charged Bryan with felony murder and criminal attempt to commit false imprisonment

“Right now, we know that he recorded this video from a very close proximity. According to his attorney, he was home one minute and within minutes, he was behind Ahmaud Arbery with his cellphone, recording his ambush,” Arbery family attorney Lee Merritt said during an appearance on the “Tamron Hall Show” Monday.

“His response to this very loud, violent shotgun shots repeatedly, and someone being murdered in front of him, was silence. He just kept recording. You didn’t hear him gasp. He didn’t cut off the camera. He didn’t intervene. He didn’t honk his horn. And we believe that is because he knew what was about to happen, and he played a role in it.”

With no trace of irony, Bryan’s lawyer responded by insisting that his client is innocent and lamenting that he’s receiving death threats. Please stop saying and doing things that “put a target on his back,” he begged Merritt.

Because we shouldn’t go around recklessly endangering the life of a man who hasn’t been convicted of a crime, you see.

“I truthfully need to be cleared of this because I had nothing to with it,” said Bryan in a recent video interview. But that’s not what Greg McMichael told police on the day of the shooting.

“‘Roddy’ attempted to block him.” I posted this a few days ago but it’s worth reupping for those who haven’t seen it. The New York Times tried to re-create the pursuit of Arbery by the McMichaels and Bryan in a video based on the police report and other publicly available information. If this is accurate, it looks like Bryan blocked Arbery not once but twice, first on Burford Road and then again at some point on Holmes Road, forcing him to double back towards his fatal encounter with the McMichaels. Watch from 3:00 to 4:20 to get the gist.

Why did Bryan join the pursuit of Arbery at all? According to the AJC, “Bryan claimed he got involved only after hearing the commotion generated by the pursuit of Arbery.” But commotion doesn’t explain why a person would immediately jump into his car and try to block a man in the road who’s being chased by a truck. A commotion demands your attention; it doesn’t demand a snap judgment about which party is right and which is wrong in a confusing confrontation about which you supposedly know nothing.

To put that another way, the McMichaels can at least argue in court that they pursued Arbery because they honestly thought he was a burglary suspect who had been captured on surveillance video at a nearby home. That doesn’t excuse the many things they did wrong, from attempting an unjustified citizen’s arrest based on dubious evidence to engaging in hot pursuit to killing a man after forcing a confrontation with him, but it explains why they were interested in catching up to Arbery. What’s Bryan’s explanation? He saw a pair of white guys chasing a black guy and just assumed they must have a valid reason?

Here’s how Georgia law defines the crime of false imprisonment, which is a felony:

A person commits the offense of false imprisonment when, in violation of the personal liberty of another, he arrests, confines, or detains such person without legal authority.

A defendant is guilty of felony murder in Georgia if “in the commission of a felony, he causes the death of another human being irrespective of malice.” In other words, if Bryan is guilty of false imprisonment (or attempted false imprisonment in this case) then he’s also guilty of murder if the person he tried to imprison ends up dying as a result of the crime. One way Bryan could attack those charges would be to argue that there was no way for him realistically to “confine” Arbery on an open road, when Arbery was able to (and did) run around his car to avoid him. Or he could argue that, even if he’s guilty of false imprisonment, it wasn’t his crime that led to Arbery’s death. It was the McMichaels’ assault on Arbery that did. That would lead into thorny questions of causation, i.e. if Bryan’s attempt to falsely imprison Arbery ended before the fatal confrontation with the McMichaels began, when exactly did it end? Bryan was pursuing him up to the last few seconds, as his video recording of Arbery’s death proves. If not for Bryan following and blocking him, Arbery may have kept running in the other direction and successfully avoided the McMichaels. So why shouldn’t Bryan share liability for the fatal incident that his pursuit engineered?

Bryan could also argue that there’s no proof he tried to block Arbery in the road. That was just some self-serving nonsense Greg McMichael told the police. The problem with that, though, is that Bryan’s dashcam apparently recorded four full minutes of the pursuit, of which the public has seen only the last 30 seconds or so. I’m guessing local authorities wouldn’t have proceeded to charge him unless that footage contains hard proof of what McMichael said, that Bryan really did try to thwart Arbery’s attempt to escape.

His lawyer claims he’s passed a polygraph test, so stay tuned. One other point in closing. Bryan’s critics, including Merritt, noticed that there’s a suspicious clicking sound close to the microphone on the audio of the now-famous footage in the moments before Arbery met the McMichaels in the road. (You can hear it at 0:15 here.) Was that the sound of Bryan loading a weapon?