Brunswick, GA – Hundreds of defendants who passed through the Brunswick Judicial Circuit while one of the men who is charged with Ahmaud Arbery’s murder worked as chief investigator there may soon have the opportunity to have their cases reviewed.
Brunswick Judicial Circuit District Attorney’s Office records showed that Gregory McMichael was a law enforcement officer who was forced into retirement in 2019 after he was caught for a second time without proper use-of-force and firearms training certifications, The Washington Post reported.
McMichael was stripped of his badge, gun, and police powers when his law enforcement certification was suspended in February of 2019,
The 20-year veteran of the Brunswick Judicial Circuit was allowed to work until his retirement four months later, but he was transferred into a civilian role as a staff liaison for the Camden County District Attorney’s Office, WJXT reported.
He was not allowed to carry a badge, gun, or law enforcement credentials anymore.
Eleven months after McMichael retired from a more than 20-year career as an investigator for the district attorney, the 64-year-old former law enforcement officer and his son, 34-year-old Travis McMichael, were arrested for the murder of 25-year-old Ahmaud Arbery whose family said was just out jogging when he was killed.
The police report said the incident on Feb. 23 began when Arbery jogged past the home of Gregory and Travis McMichael, 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, Willian Bryan, who was following in another vehicle, showed Arbery running up the middle of the residential road toward a white pickup truck was stopped ahead of him.
The video showed Arbery ran around the truck and a struggle ensued before he reappeared back in front of it again and engaged in a hand-to-hand struggle for Travis McMichael’s shotgun.
Arbery was shot twice in the chest and died at the scene.
No arrests were made for more than two months after the shooting as the case was passed from prosecutor to prosecutor, prompting outrage from Arbery’s family and community.
It has since been reported that McMichael’s former boss, Brunswick Judicial Circuit District Attorney Jackie Johnson, told police not to arrest either McMichael on the night Arbery was shot.
The Georgia Bureau of Investigation (GBI) was asked to assist in the investigation into Arbery’s death in early May, and 48 hours later, both Gregory and Travis McMichael were arrested for murder.
Georgia Attorney General Chris Carr has asked the GBI and the U.S. Department of Justice (DoJ) to investigate the handling of Arbery’s case, WJXT reported.
“Unfortunately, many questions and concerns have arisen regarding, among other things, the communications between and actions taken by the District Attorneys of the Brunswick and Waycross Circuits,” Carr said Tuesday. “As a result, we have requested the GBI to review in order to determine whether the process was undermined in any way.”
But revelations about her role in the case may be the least of the Brunswick district attorney’s problems.
After McMichael was arrested, his personnel file was released to the media through “Sunshine Law” requests and showed that he had spent eight of his 20 years as chief investigator for Johnson working without law enforcement certification.
And he was caught twice before it ended his career, WJXT reported.
In 2014, the Georgia’s Peace Officer Standards and Training (POST) Council notified McMichael that his certification had been suspended because of his failure since 2006 to complete necessary training in de-escalation, community policing, use of force, and firearms that was required on an annual basis to maintain his credentials and police powers.
McMichael claimed hardship from medical bills resulting from him and his wife having a series of medical problems, and Johnson wrote a letter to Georgia POST asking them to grant a waiver, WJXT reported.
“This situation has been a great embarrassment to me and to investigator McMichael,” Johnson wrote. “It has negatively impacted my office, and I have taken measures to ensure that this doesn’t happen again. Please accept my sincere apology.”
But Georgia’s Peace Officer Standards and Training Council Executive Director Mike Ayers explained to WJXT that regardless of his later reinstatement, during the eight years when McMichael wasn’t certified, he had no more police powers to make an arrest than an average citizen.
Ayers said McMichael couldn’t apply for arrest warrants or search warrants or conduct arrests “under color of the law” from 2006 to 2014.
Records showed that Georgia POST reinstated McMichael in 2014, but then the veteran investigator let his training lapse again in 2018 and was once again suspended, WJXT reported.
That suspension led to his transfer and retirement.
But now that all of the information about his suspensions has become public, and it’s known that McMichael was acting in a law enforcement capacity for eight years when he was not certified to do so, a whole new Pandora’s Box has been opened in the Brunswick Judicial Circuit, WJXT reported.
Attorney Gene Nichols explained that the defendants from every single case that McMichael worked on will be able to go back to the court and ask to have their cases reviewed.
Nichols told WJXT that depending on how much involvement the uncertified investigator had in each individual case, some defendants were likely to have convictions overturned and be granted new trials.
Ayers noted the irony of which trainings McMichael had skipped during his law enforcement career – de-escalation, community policing, use of force, and firearms training.
“Those particular classes are critically important, especially when you look at situations like de-escalation,” he told WJXT. “How do you keep a situation from getting out of hand? Which is potentially what you’re looking at specifically in this situation.”
Ayers said “de-escalation training certainly speaks to that whole issue.”
He said that Georgia POST now does yearly audits and sends notifications to officers and their employers as soon as police powers have been suspended, WJXT reported.