A murder charge was dismissed against Travis McMichael for the death of Ahman Arbery during a shootout in August 2015
A prosecutor in Long Beach, California, said the city’s police department intentionally “hounded and humiliated” an innocent man through inadequate training and a culture that encouraged officers to lie about their conduct.
The attorney for Ahman Arbery’s family asked a judge for $100m in damages and a new trial on Thursday, saying that the city had failed to provide adequate supervision, punish officers and provide improved safety equipment.
McMichael is due to stand trial in May on a murder charge in Arbery’s death and the city prosecutors have already opted to dismiss the case. A jury previously found that McMichael was not guilty of a felony count of voluntary manslaughter.
State and federal prosecutors allege that McMichael and Arbery, who had a permit to carry a gun, had a violent exchange in a traffic stop in August 2015. A videotape from the police department’s video evidence collection center shows a confrontation between the two men and McMichael pointing a gun at Arbery during the stop.
McMichael then shot Arbery, whose body lay on the ground for an hour before being taken to a hospital, where he died of his wounds. A lawsuit by Arbery’s widow, Delois Black-Arbery, said that McMichael then walked away from the scene and had an officer say on tape that Arbery had “tried to kill himself” when he was never physically suicidal, and that he had a mental health episode at the time.
Delois Black-Arbery in court on Wednesday. Photograph: Courtesy Black-Arbery family
McMichael’s attorney, Mitchell Kaplan, said that the videotape showed McMichael responding in self-defense to a violent attack by Arbery, a man who prosecutors say was known to have multiple weapons.
Kaplan said that a police department board’s report in February found McMichael had an anger management problem and that he was unable to get mental health treatment or he would not have pulled out a gun at all. He also said that several of Arbery’s friends testified in court Wednesday that he was not violent, leading the board to conclude that his family’s claims of Arbery’s suicidal nature were false.
Black-Arbery’s attorney said that the report showed how deeply problems with internal affairs and police training ran throughout the department. He said he wanted Arbery’s case reopened, alleging that the board investigation “went into hyperdrive” after Black-Arbery threatened to sue the city.
“The city has failed to provide adequate training. Training that leads to better, safer and more respectful relationships between the police and the people they protect and serve,” Black-Arbery’s attorney, Robert Sheahen, said at a press conference on Thursday.
A spokesperson for the city attorney’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The week of court proceedings, which ended with the mayor’s announcement of McMichael’s murder charge, has already been closely watched by civil rights activists in Orange County and beyond.
McMichael was one of hundreds of black men shot and killed by police officers in 2017, according to the Los Angeles Times, and an autopsy later found that Arbery was shot in the back with the bullets traveling in opposite directions.
Black-Arbery attended some of the hearings, wearing black sunglasses and a gray, sweatshirt-style scarf to cover the bullet holes in her back. She broke down on Thursday as she discussed how her husband’s violent death had affected their family.
“I wish to God he would come back,” she said, wiping away tears. “Don’t feel sorry for me, feel sorry for myself and my daughters.”
A hearing on the day’s legal motions is scheduled for 13 April.