Ex-prosecutor indicted for misconduct in Ahmaud Arbery death

Southeast

FILE – In this Tuesday, Nov. 3, 2020 file photo, District Attorney Jackie Johnson campaigns for reelection on St. Simons Island, Ga. Johnson, a former Georgia prosecutor was indicted Thursday, Sept. 2, 2021 on misconduct charges alleging she used her position to shield the men who chased and killed Ahmaud Arbery from being charged with crimes immediately after the shootings. (Terry Dickson/The Brunswick News via AP, File)

SAVANNAH, Ga. (AP) — A former Georgia prosecutor was indicted Thursday on misconduct charges alleging she used her position to shield the men who chased and killed Ahmaud Arbery from being charged with crimes immediately after the shootings.

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.

The indictment resulted from an investigation Georgia Attorney General Chris Carr ordered last year into local prosecutors’ handling of Arbery’s slaying after a cellphone video of the shooting and a delay in charges sparked a national outcry.

“While an indictment was returned today, our file is not closed, and we will continue to investigate in order to pursue justice,” Carr, a Republican, said in a statement.

Arbery was killed Feb. 23, 2020, after a white father and son, Greg and Travis McMichael, armed themselves and pursued the 25-year-Black man in a pickup truck after spotting him running in their neighborhood outside the coastal city of Brunswick.

WAYNESBORO, GA – FEBRUARY 23: A painting of Ahmaud Arbery is displayed during a vigil at New Springfield Baptist Church on February 23, 2021 in Waynesboro, Georgia. Arbery, a Black man, was shot and killed while jogging near Brunswick, Georgia a year ago today after being chased by two white men. (Photo by Sean Rayford/Getty Images)

A neighbor, William “Roddie” Bryan joined the chase and took cellphone video of Travis McMichael shooting Arbery at close range with a shotgun. The McMichales said they believed Arbery was a burglar and that he was shot after attacking Travis McMichael with his fists.

Police did not charge any of them immediately following the shooting, and the McMichaels and Bryan remained free for more than two months until the Georgia Bureau of Investigation took over the case. All three were charged with murder in May 2020 and face trial this fall.

Greg McMichael had worked as an investigator in Johnson’s office, having retired in 2019. Evidence introduced in pretrial hearings in the murder case shows he called Johnson’s cellphone and left her a voice message soon after the shooting occurred.

“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.”

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A record of Greg McMichael’s cellphone calls that day does not show that Johnson called him back.

The indictment says Johnson showed “favor and affection” toward Greg McMichael in the investigation and interfered with police officers at the scene by “directing that Travis McMichael should not be placed under arrest.”

Johnson has insisted she did nothing wrong, saying she immediately recused herself from the case because Greg McMichael was a former employee.

This photo combo of images taken Thursday, May 7, 2020, and provided by the Glynn County Detention Center, in Georgia, show Gregory McMichael, left, and his son Travis McMichael. A prosecutor on Wednesday, June 24, 2020 announced that three men have been indicted on murder charges in the killing of Ahmaud Arbery in coastal Georgia. Speaking to reporters outside the Glynn County courthouse, prosecutor Joyette Holmes said a grand jury has indicted Travis McMichael, Gregory McMichael and William “Roddie” Bryan Jr. on charges including malice and felony murder in the death of the African American man. (Glynn County Detention Center via AP)

“I’m confident that when the truth finally comes out on that, people will understand our office did what it had to under the circumstances,” Johnson told The Associated Press in November after she lost reelection.

Lee Merritt, an attorney for Arbery’s mother, said in a statement Thursday that prosecutors “must be held accountable when they interfere with investigations in order to protect friends and law enforcement.”

He said Arbery’s mother, Wanda Cooper Jones, “is grateful for everyone who continues to advocate for justice for Ahmaud and for accountability at every level.”

After the shooting, Johnson called an outside prosecutor, Waycross Judicial Circuit District Attorney George Barnhill, to handle questions from police about how to handle the shooting.

Carr, the attorney general, ended up appointing Barnhill to take over on Feb. 27, four days after the shooting. In his letter ordering an investigation last May, Carr said he was never told that Barnhill had already advised police “that he did not see grounds for the arrest of any of the individuals involved in Mr. Arbery’s death.”

Barnhill later recused himself as well, after Arbery’s family learned his son worked for Johnson as an assistant prosecutor. But before he stepped aside, Barnhill 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 advised in the letter, referencing Georgia’s citizen arrest statute. That law was quickly repealed, with overwhelming support from Republicans and Democrats, as a reaction to Arbery’s death.

Johnson blamed the controversy over Arbery’s death for her election defeat last year after a decade as top prosecutor for the five-county circuit in southeast Georgia. She was defeated by independent candidate Keith Higgins, who had to collect thousands of signatures to get on the ballot.

Johnson did not immediately return a phone message seeking comment Thursday afternoon.

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