UPDATED: 4:05 p.m. ET, Nov. 24
Originally published: Sept. 3
After a jury returned guilty murder verdicts for the three men who killed Ahmaud Arbery, attention turned to who else could be held accountable for the modern-day lynching of the 25-year-old Black man who was racially profiled by vigilantes last year.
Perhaps lost in the news of the convictions of father and son Greg and Travis McMichael and their friend and neighbor, William “Roddie” Bryan, is the subsequent incestuous cover-up by the highest levels of local law enforcement by refusing to arrest and charge them with the brazen killing. A carousel of prosecutors in Georgia recused themselves from the case, including a now-ex district attorney who was indicted for her alleged misconduct.
That’s a direct reference to former Brunswick Judicial Circuit District Attorney Jackie Johnson was indicted by a grand jury in September on one felony count of violating her oath of office and one misdemeanor count of hindering a law enforcement officer.
The charges came after Georgia Attorney General Chris Carr requested an investigation that revealed Greg McMichael, who had worked as an investigator in Johnson’s office until he retired in 2019, had called Johnson shortly after the shooting occurred on Feb. 23, 2020, more than two months before anyone was arrested for Arbery’s killing.
“Jackie, this is Greg,” he said, according to a recording of the call included in the public case file. “Could you call me as soon as you possibly can? My son and I have been involved in a shooting and I need some advice right away.”
According to the indictment, Johnson returned the call and not only did she show “favor and affection” toward Greg, but she interfered with police officers at the scene by “directing that Travis McMichael should not be placed under arrest.”
It’s worth mentioning that in February of this year, Arbery’s mother filed a federal civil rights lawsuit accusing officials of covering up her son’s killing.
Carr didn’t only call for an investigation into Johnson’s conduct, he also had investigators look into that of Waycross Judicial Circuit District Attorney George Barnhill, who Johnson had called in to handle police questions about how to handle the Arbery case, to which he erroneously determined, “that he did not see grounds for the arrest of any of the individuals involved in Mr. Arbery’s death.”
Barnhill—who later recused himself from the case after Arbery’s family found out his son once worked for Johnson as an assistant prosecutor—wrote a letter to a Glynn County police captain saying the McMichaels “were following, in ‘hot pursuit,’ a burglary suspect, with solid first-hand probable cause, in their neighborhood, and asking/ telling him to stop.”
“It appears their intent was to stop and hold this criminal suspect until law enforcement arrived. Under Georgia Law this is perfectly legal,” Barnhill continued. (The citizen’s arrest law that he said made it “perfectly legal” has since been repealed because it turns out letting any yokel with a gun play Redneck Batman every time they find some Black guy suspicious isn’t such a good idea. Who knew?)
As of now, Barnhill has not been hit with an indictment, but Carr has said that while an indictment for Johnson “was returned today, our file is not closed, and we will continue to investigate in order to pursue justice.”
Meanwhile, Superior Court Judge Timothy Walmsley has ruled that defense attorneys can not use Arbery’s past run-ins with law enforcement, which includes two arrests, as evidence in the murder trial for the McMichaels and William “Roddie” Bryan Jr., which will likely be delayed due to a COVID surge in Glynn County. Lawyers wanted to use Arbery’s past to form a narrative that Arbery wasn’t just an innocent jogger. (Imagine representing three people charged with murder and still arguing that an arrest, in and of itself, proves a lack of innocence. The audacity of whiteness, I tell ya.)
According to ABC News, Walmsley wrote in his ruling that the use of Arbery’s past could unfairly “lead the jury to believe that although Arbery did not apparently commit any felony that day, he may pose future dangerousness in that he would eventually commit more alleged crimes, and therefore, the Defendants’ actions were somehow justified.”
“The character of the victim is neither relevant nor admissible in a murder trial,” Walmsley continued.