Brunswick, GA – The fourth in a series of prosecutors was appointed Monday morning to take over the fatal shooting of Ahmaud Arbery in February 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 has been appointed to head up the prosecution of 64-year-old Gregory McMichael, and his son, 34-year-old Travis McMichael, who were both charged with Arbery’s murder and aggravated assault on Friday.
Holmes was appointed by Georgia Governor Brian Kemp to replace Vic Reynolds when he left to become director of the Georgia Bureau of Investigation (GBI) and is the first black district attorney in Cobb County.
On Sunday, Georgia Attorney General Chris Carr asked the U.S. Department of Justice (DoJ) to investigate the handling of the case after a whole lot of new information came to light following the release of a video on Thursday, The Washington Post reported.
The community was outraged that it took two months and intervention by GBI before the first arrests were made in the bizarre incident that left Arbery, whose family said was just out jogging, fatally shot on a residential street.
The police report said the incident began when Arbery jogged past the home of Gregory McMichael and his son, 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.
The video, filmed by the McMichaels’ friend, Willian 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 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.
No arrests were 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.
On Friday, Two Glynn county commissioners revealed that 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 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 has prohibited grand juries from meeting until after June 12, The New York Times reported.
Facing intense scrutiny, Durden asked the GBI to assist with the investigation into Arbery’s death on Tuesday, WSB reported.
By Thursday, 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, WXIA reported.
Further complicating matters, additional video was released over the weekend 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.
The GBI director said his agency was investigating William Bryan, the McMichaels’ neighbor who filmed the video of the incident from his car as he too was following Arbery.
Reynolds said he had experts working to verify that the video hadn’t been edited prior to its release.
He said his investigators would be turning over a complete package to the prosecutor when they were finished so that charges could be determined.
Arbery’s parents have retained heavy hitting attorneys to represent them as the investigation continues.
Benjamin Crump is representing the father, Marcus Arbery, and S. Lee Merritt is representing Arbery’s mother, Wanda Cooper.
Crump is best known for representing the families of Trayvon Williams and Michael Brown.
Merritt is known for having represented civil rights clients in cases against law enforcement where false accusations were made against police.