A former Georgia district attorney is facing charges of misconduct over her handling of the 2020 shooting of Ahmaud Arbery. This is one of the latest developments in the case as the beginning of the trial of the men accused of murdering Arbery approaches.
NBC New York reported:
A grand jury in coastal Glynn County indicted former Brunswick Judicial Circuit District Attorney Jackie Johnson on charges of violating her oath of office and hindering a law enforcement officer.
Johnson is being accused of using her position to shield Gregory and Travis McMichael, the father and son duo who chased Arbery through a Brunswick neighborhood before participating in the incident that resulted in his death. After the footage showing Arbery’s shooting went viral, greater scrutiny was placed on how the local government handled the matter.
Law enforcement officers did not charge either of the men or William “Roddie” Bryan, a neighbor who joined the chase and filmed the encounter on his cell phone. The men were free for two months until the Georgia Bureau of Investigation took over the case, after the outpouring of outrage that followed the spread of the video.
The elder McMichael had worked as an investigator for Johnson’s office in the past. After the shooting, he left her a voicemail.
The indictment alleges that the former district attorney showed “favor and affection” toward Gregory McMichael and claims she contacted police officers responding to the scene, “directing that Travis McMichael should not be placed under arrest.”
TNBC also reported that the former official “has insisted she did nothing wrong” and that she “recused herself from the case because Greg McMichael was a former employee.”
Johnson recommended that an outside prosecutor, district attorney George Barnhill, be appointed to handle the case. Barnhill declined to press charges, writing a memo defending the three men and claiming Arbery’s history of mental illness was to blame for the incident. However, he also recused himself after Arbery’s family pointed out that his son worked for Johnson as an assistant prosecutor.
In May 2020, two Glynn County commissioners alleged that Johnson’s office blocked the arrests of both McMichaels. Dr. Peter Murphy, one of the officials making the allegations, told reporters:
“After multiple calls back and forth, the investigator was told by her (Johnson’s) assistant, a man named Rocky Bridges, that no arrests were to be made.”
Commissioner Allen Booker also spoke to the media:
“The police at the scene went to her, saying they were ready to arrest both of them. These were the police at the scene who had done the investigation.”
He added: “She shut them down to protect her friend McMichael.”
During the 2020 elections, voters ousted Johnson. It is believed her handling of the Arbery case was the primary reason for her loss.
The Ahmaud Arbery shooting was the first in a series of killings of black men that brought about a renewed conversation about race in American and police brutality. However, his case was unique in that the individuals who killed him were not police officers at the time – they were civilians.
Still, many pointed out that it appeared the local government was attempting to cover for the McMichaels and Bryan. Both Johnson and Barnhill seemed eager to sweep this situation under the rug. But when the footage went viral, it prompted the Georgia Bureau of Investigations to look into the matter.
If it is found that Johnson used her position of power to shield a friend from ramifications, it will further demonstrate that the Arbery case is not just one involving murder; it is also an example of government corruption. The three men are expected to go to trial in the fall of 2021.