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Georgia Bill Based On False Narrative About Arbery Case Allows County Police To Be Disbanded

Atlanta, GA – Georgia lawmakers passed legislation to allow voters to disband county police departments based on the false premise that Glynn County police mishandled the Ahmaud Arbery shooting investigation that was actually delayed by prosecutors.

The bill passed through the Georgia House of Representatives with a vote of 152-3 on Friday, FOX News reported.

On Monday, the Georgia Senate voted unanimously to approve the legislation, which will now be forwarded to Georgia Governor Brian Kemp for his consideration, according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

Under the proposed law, Georgia voters would be given the power to determine whether or not to dissolve their county police departments.

DeKalb, Fulton, Glynn, and Gwinnett counties are among the jurisdictions with county police departments, FOX News reported.

In those jurisdictions, county police generally handle law enforcement issues, while the county sheriff’s offices handle jail operations.

If voters were to opt to eliminate their county police departments, the sheriff’s offices would be responsible for taking over enforcement of state and local laws, FOX News reported.

The measure came on the heels of the shooting death of 25-year-old Ahmaud Arbery, who was allegedly chased down and killed by 34-year-old Travis McMichael and his father, 64-year-old Gregory McMichael, on Feb. 23 while jogging through their neighborhood, Newsweek 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 police report said Gregory McMichael claimed he and his son had called out to the jogger 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, and the entire encounter was captured on cell phone video filmed by the McMichaels’ friend, William “Roddie” Bryan.

No arrests were made for more than two months after the shooting, prompting outrage from Arbery’s family and community.

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 older McMichael recently retired from a long career as an investigator for the Brunswick district attorney’s office.

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.

Two Glynn county commissioners revealed that Glynn County police wanted to arrest McMichaels when the shooting happened but Brunswick District Attorney Jackie Johnson’s office refused to allow police to arrest either of the suspects at the scene, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution 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.

Eventually, Johnson recused herself from the case because she had previously been Gregory McMichael’s boss.

But the next prosecutor to get the case also 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 Ahmaud Arbery for the Brunswick District Attorney’s Office, CNN reported.

Tom Durden, the third 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 had prohibited grand juries from meeting until after June 12 because of the coronavirus pandemic, 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 on May 5, WSB reported.

By May 7, the GBI director announced that both McMichaels had been arrested.

Both men were booked into the Glynn County Jail on charges of murder and aggravated assault and remain there, held without bond.

The fourth in a series of prosecutors was appointed on May 11 to take over the case just a day after the Georgia Attorney General’s Office asked for a federal investigation of the handling of the case.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported that Cobb County District Attorney Joyette Holmes had been appointed to head up the prosecution of the McMichaels.

Holmes was appointed by the governor to replace Vic Reynolds when he left to become GBI director and is the first black district attorney in Cobb County.

On May 14, the man who helped the McMichaels hunt down Arbery and then filmed the shooting was also arrested and charged with murder and attempted false imprisonment.

Despite the fact that all the delays related to the Arbery case can be blamed squarely on the prosecutors involved, legislation that would allow voters to get rid of their county police departments gained traction following Arbery’s death as critics unfairly blamed the Glynn County police for mishandling the investigation.

Written by
Holly Matkin

Holly is a former probation and parole officer who is married to a sheriff’s deputy. She is a regular contributor to Signature Montana magazine, and has written feature articles for Distinctly Montana magazine.

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Written by Holly Matkin

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