Prosecutor Accused Of Mishandling Ahmaud Arbery Case Indicted By Grand Jury

Update (Sept. 2, 2021): The former prosecutor who is accused of protecting the men who killed Georgia native Ahmaud Arbery has been indicted by a grand jury.

On Thursday, jurors in Glynn County, Georgia, indicted former Brunswick Judicial Circuit District Attorney Jackie Johnson on charges of violating her oath of office and hindering a law enforcement officer, USA Today reported

In favor of Arbery’s killers, Greg and Travis McMichael, Johnson is accused of interfering in the case and stopped them from being charged immediately after the crime. Arbery was gunned down on a local street on Feb. 23, 2020, after the McMichaels accused him of breaking into homes. A third man, William “Roddie” Bryan, who has also been charged in the case, joined the father and son in pursuing Arbery.

The men were not charged or arrested in the days following the shooting. USA Today reported that Greg, who worked in Johnson’s office, left her a voicemail after the incident. Johnson is accused of then showing “favor and affection” toward Greg and interfering on the scene, telling officers “that Travis McMichael should not be placed under arrest.”

After two months, the Georgia Bureau of Investigation took over the investigation and finally charged the three men. They were each charged with murder in May 2020 and will stand trial in the fall.

Johnson upholds her innocence and says she recused herself from the investigation because of her working relationship with Greg. She later appointed George Barnhill, Waycross judicial circuit district attorney, to the case who recommended no charges be brought against the men. But Barnhill later withdrew himself from the case, too, after it was revealed that the attorney had a son who worked for Johnson.

As Blavity previously reported, Johnson lost reelection, citing circumstances surrounding Arbery’s death

Original (Nov. 6, 2020): The Georgia district attorney facing federal investigations due to her conduct in the case of Ahmaud Arbery was trounced in the November 3 election and will now lose her position, according to the official election summary from Glynn County. 

Republican District Attorney Jackie Johnson lost her race against independent Keith Higgins by a nearly 5,000 vote margin on Tuesday. Although Higgins did not press the issues around Arbery’s case, he did tacitly acknowledge that Johnson’s actions contributed to his win.

“I think there’s a need to have more transparency and more accountability in the office. First and foremost, part of the task is to create a greater degree of public confidence that things are being handled properly and the way they should and that everybody is treated equally fair under the law,” Higgins told News4Jax. 

As Blavity previously reported, Arbery was shot and killed in February while jogging in Brunswick, Georgia. A father and son, Travis and Gregory McMichael, chased Arbery and shot him to death while another man, William Bryan Jr, filmed the entire ordeal.

All three are in jail and have been indicted on murder charges. But it took more than two months for them to be arrested by police even after horrifying video of the incident leaked online. 

Directives from Johnson are said to be the reason no one was immediately arrested for the shooting of Arbery. The New Brunswick News reported that Glynn County government officials were livid when they found out that Johnson had told police not to arrest the McMichaels, even though Johnson’s office has denied any such claim. 

According to News4Jax, Gregory McMichael spent years working for Johnson as an investigator and her office told police it was not necessary to arrest either McMichael for the death of Arbery.

When national backlash against her decision began to grow, she recused herself and appointed another prosecutor to handle the case, George Barnhill.

But like Johnson, Barnhill recommended no charges against the McMichaels. He too was eventually forced to recuse himself because he had prosecuted an earlier case against Arbery, and his son worked with both Johnson and McMichael, according to News4Jax. 

Both Johnson and Barnhill are now being investigated by the FBI for their decisions in the case. 

The video of Arbery’s violent death and the lack of charges led to months of sustained outrage that only grew as other cases, like that of Breonna Taylor, began to emerge.

The national angst around the killings of Taylor, Arbery and others culminated in global protests that broke out after the similarly violent killing of George Floyd in May. All three deaths led to a months-long national conversation about race and policing in America and across the world. 

Scott Roberts, Senior Director of Criminal Justice Campaigns for Color Of Change, wrote an op-ed for Blavity highlighting how Johnson’s actions in Arbery’s case were an example of why there needs to be a larger movement to elect more progressive district attorneys across the country. 

“An arrest isn’t justice. Because we’ve experienced this kind of racial terror for decades, we know that a lynching is not just the violent act, but the de facto way that public officials, like elected district attorneys, sanction that violence. This is the difference between interpersonal racism and systemic injustice,” Roberts wrote.

“We’ve led campaigns that target prosecutors before. It is a strategy that lets elected officials know we will organize to demand consequences when they fail to do their jobs when Black people are the victims of racial terror. When they have demonstrated patterns of protecting the criminal behavior of police who think they are above the law, we organize to have them removed and support the campaigns of candidates who oppose them,” he added.

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