By Holly Matkin and Sandy Malone
Atlanta, GA – The district attorney responsible for blocking the immediate arrests of the men who fatally shot Ahmaud Arbery while he was running through their neighborhood last year has been indicted on charges of obstruction of a peace officer and violation of oath of a public officer in connection with her actions in the aftermath of the shooting.
Georgia Attorney General Chris Carr announced the charges against former Brunswick Judicial Circuit District Attorney Jackie Johnson on Thursday, The Brunswick News reported.
Two Glynn County commissioners revealed in May of last year that Johnson’s office refused to allow police to arrest 64-year-old Gregory McMichael and his son, 34-year-old Travis McMichael, shortly after the Feb. 23, 2020 shooting death of Arbery, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported.
The older McMichael had recently retired from a 20-year career as an investigator for the Brunswick district attorney’s office.
Johnson was his boss for nine years of his career, according to The Brunswick News.
Prior to joining the district attorney’s office, Gregory McMichael was an officer with the Glynn County Police Department for seven years, The New York Times reported.
“The police at the scene went to her, saying they were ready to arrest both of them,” Glynn County Commissioner Allen Booker said. “These were the police at the scene who had done the investigation. She shut them down to protect her friend McMichael.”
Glynn County Commissioner Peter Murphy confirmed Booker’s account and said officers at the scene told the district attorney they had probable cause to make the arrests, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported.
Johnson recused herself from the case the day of the shooting due to her past ties with Gregory McMichael, The Brunswick News reported.
Prosecution of the Johnson faces a major hurdle because delaying arrests is normal.
Once an arrest is made, it starts a timeline for the charges and the case the move forward to trial due to the defendants right to a speedy trial. If an investigation isn’t complete at the time of arrest, and won’t be ready in time to make a charging determination or be ready for trial, the prosecutor will drop charges to potentially be refiled once the investigation is complete.
Delaying an arrest skips these extra steps and allows a prosecutor to simply file charges when the case is ready.
The case languished until May of 2020, when the McMichaels were charged with murdering 25-year-old Arbery and criminal attempt to commit false imprisonment.
A third suspect, William “Roddie” Bryan, was also later arrested, The Brunswick News reported.
The grand jury concluded Johnson “did knowingly and willfully hinder … law enforcement officers with the Glynn County Police Department” by refusing to allow officers to arrest the McMichaels the night of the shooting, according to the paper.
The indictment further accuses the now-former prosecutor of “showing favor and affection to Greg McMichael during the investigation into the shooting death of Ahmaud Arbery, thereby failing to discharge her duties as district attorney.”
The first two prosecutors who were assigned to the case had to recuse themselves because of professional connections to Gregory McMichael, The New York Times reported.
The next prosecutor to get the case said there was no probable to arrest the McMichaels.
Documents obtained by The New York Times revealed that George E. Barnhill, a prosecutor with the Waycross Judicial District who was previously assigned to the case, had argued that both McMichaels had acted legally under the Georgia citizen’s arrest and self-defense statutes.
Barnhill recused himself from the case after Arbery’s mother, Wanda Cooper Jones, complained about a conflict of interest, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported.
It turned out that Barnhill’s son had worked with Gregory McMichael on an earlier prosecution of Arbery for the Brunswick District Attorney’s Office, CNN reported.
The grand jury indictment alleges Johnson “recommended DA Barnhill to the Attorney General’s Office for appointment as the case prosecutor without disclosing that (Johnson) had previously sought the assistance of Barnhill on the case,” and that by doing so, she failed “to treat Ahmaud Arbery and his family fairly and with dignity,” The Brunswick News reported.
Tom Durden, another prosecutor assigned to the case, was bombarded with criticism after he said he wanted to convene a grand jury to determine whether the McMichaels should be charged, the Associated Press reported.
But that could not happen for more than a month because the Georgia Supreme Court has prohibited grand juries from meeting until after June 12, 2020, The New York Times reported.
Facing intense scrutiny, Durden asked the Georgia Bureau of Investigation (GBI) to assist with the investigation into Arbery’s death in May of 2020, WSB reported.
Within days, the GBI director announced that both McMichaels had been arrested.
The Cobb County District Attorney’s Office is currently prosecuting the case, The Brunswick News reported.
“Our office is committed to ensuring those who are entrusted to serve are carrying out their duties ethically and honestly,” Carr said in a statement on Thursday, according to WSB. “While an indictment was returned today, our file is not closed, and we will continue to investigate in order to pursue justice.”
According to the police report, the deadly confrontation began when Arbery jogged past McMichael’s home, the Associated Press reported.
The McMichaels told police afterwards that they thought Arbery was the suspect in several recent burglaries in the neighborhood, so they armed themselves and followed him, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported.
The men jumped in their pickup truck and followed the 25 year old as he jogged through the neighborhood.
A video filmed by the McMichaels’ friend and co-defendant, Bryan, who was following in another vehicle, showed Arbery jogging up the middle of the residential road toward a white pickup truck was stopped ahead of him.
In the video, Arbery dodged to the right onto the grass to go around the stopped truck.
Yelling can be heard in the video for a second, and then a gunshot, just before Arbery reappeared in front of the truck.
The video showed Gregory McMichael standing up in the bed of the pickup with a gun in his hand.
Arbery appeared to engage Travis McMichael, who was holding a shotgun, in a struggle for the gun that drifted off camera for a split second.
While they were off-camera, Travis McMichael’s gun went off – a puff of smoke is visible on the left side of the screen that indicated where the gunshot came from.
The video showed Arbery and Travis McMichael veered back into the frame, still engaged in a struggle over the gun, and then there was a third gunshot.
Arbery took a couple steps away from Travis McMichael and collapsed face-first in the middle of the street, the video showed.
Gregory McMichael got down from the back of the pickup, gun in hand, and was walking toward where Arbery lay on the ground as the video ended.
The police report said he claimed he and his son had called out to the Arbery and told him they wanted to talk to him, the Associated Press reported.
Gregory McMichael told police that Arbery “began to violently attack” his son and then the two men fought over the shotgun.
Arbery was shot twice and died.
Further complicating matters, additional video was released in May of 2020 that showed a man who appeared to be Arbery going into a vacant home that was under construction in the McMichaels’ neighborhood on the day he was killed, WJXX reported.
The surveillance video from inside the home showed the man looking around but he did not appear to have taken anything before he left.
Police said that a man called 911 shortly before Arbery was shot to report a man had broken into the home in the video, WJXX reported.
Then a man called 911 and reported the burglar was running away from the house, according to police.
Investigators said there had been reports of trespassing and a theft of a weapon from a vehicle in the neighborhood in the months leading up to the incident, WJXX reported.
This information would have been enough for a law enforcement officer to detain Arbery to investigate if a crime had occurred, but would not have provided probable cause for arrest by an officer or citizen.
An attorney for the homeowners who released the surveillance video said that they had no connection to the McMichaels and had never connected Arbery’s shooting with the person who had entered their home the same day.
Bryan and the McMichaels are scheduled to go to trial in October, CNBC News reported.