The US Justice Department is weighing whether to file hate crime charges against the white men who killed Ahmaud Arbery, an unarmed black man who was gunned down while jogging in the small coastal town of Brunswick, Georgia, department spokeswoman Kerri Kupec said on Monday.
“The Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice, the FBI, and the US Attorney for the Southern District of Georgia have been supporting and will continue fully to support and participate in the state investigation, department spokeswoman Kerri Kupec said.
“We are assessing all of the evidence to determine whether federal hate crimes charges are appropriate.”
Ahmaud Arbery, 25, was killed on February 23 as he ran on a sunny day in a residential neighbourhood in the town of Brunswick, Georgia.
Two white men were arrested and charged for his shooting last week.
Mr Arbery’s death gained national notoriety last week with the release of a 28-second cell phone video that captured the shooting.
In the footage, Mr Arbery is seen running down a residential street and approaching a white pickup truck stopped in the right lane with a man standing in the back.
As Arbery tries to get around the vehicle, he is confronted by a second man holding a shotgun. An altercation between the two ensues and the firing of three shots can be heard.
The two white men were identified by police as Travis McMichael, 34, and his father Gregory McMichael, 64, who both live in Brunswick. They were arrested on Thursday and charged with murder and aggravated assault.
According to the February police report, Gregory McMichael told officers he thought Mr Arbery was a suspect in a series of area burglaries and that he had seen the young black man “hauling ass” down the street.
Gregory McMichael said he went inside his home and got his .357 Magnum while his son grabbed a shotgun. When they finally caught up with Mr Arbery and Travis McMichael got out of the truck with the shotgun, Mr Arbery began to “violently attack” him, the father said, according to the police report.
The father said he saw his son shoot Mr Arbery and the jogger fall to the ground.
Critics have questioned why it took local law enforcement more than two months to arrest the suspects, prompting Georgia’s state attorney general to vow to investigate the delay.
Ms Kupec said that the Justice Department is also looking into how the investigation was handled.
“We are considering the request of the Attorney General of Georgia and have asked that he forward to federal authorities any information that he has about the handling of the investigation,” Ms Kupec said.
“We will continue to assess all information, and we will take any appropriate action that is warranted by the facts and the law.”