A former Georgia prosecutor was indicted Thursday on misconduct charges alleging she used her position to shield the men who chased and allegedly killed Ahmaud Arbery. A grand jury in coastal Glynn County indicted former Brunswick Judicial Circuit District Attorney Jackie Johnson on a felony count of violating her oath of office and hindering a law enforcement officer, a misdemeanor.
Johnson allegedly used her influence to keep Greg and Travis McMichael from being charged immediately after the crime. The father and son duo pursued the 25-year-old Arbery in a pickup truck after spotting him running in their neighborhood outside the coastal city of Brunswick, GA.
A neighbor, William “Roddie” Bryan, joined the chase and took cellphone video of Travis McMichael shooting Arbery at close range with a shotgun. The McMichaels stayed at large for more than two months until the cellphone video emerged, prompting Gov. Brian Kemp to ask the Georgia Bureau of Investigation to take over the case.
The two McMichaels and Bryan were charged with murder as well as other crimes in May of 2020 and are set to face trial soon in the fall of 2021. Prosecutors say Arbery was merely jogging in their neighborhood and was unarmed when Travis McMichael shot him. They say there is no evidence Arbery had committed a crime.
(Photo Credit: Glynn County Detention Center via AP)
Greg McMichael had worked as an investigator in the office of Jackie Johnson before he 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.
“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.” Cellphone records indicate that Johnson did not call him back.
Arriving at the scene, however, Johnson had directed the officers not to take the two into custody.
Johnson did not immediately return a phone message seeking comment Thursday afternoon. She has previously insisted she did nothing wrong, saying she immediately recused herself from the case because Greg McMichael was a former employee.
“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, on the heels of losing reelection that she feels was due in no small part to her involvement in the aftermath of the shooting.
Georgia Attorney General Chris Carr had requested an investigation into local prosecutors’ handling of the case after it gained national attention for the delay in charging the McMichaels as well as the fact that they are white and Arbery was black.
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.”
Carr asked the GBI not only to investigate Johnson’s actions related to the killing but also those of Waycross Judicial Circuit District Attorney George Barnhill, but no charges against Barnhill have been filed at this time.
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 that 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, in reference to a Civil War-era citizen arrest statute in the state.
However, that law was repealed in May 2021, with overwhelming support from Republicans and Democrats, as a reaction to Arbery’s death.
Nevertheless, Johnson maintains her innocence and contends that the arresting officers “represented it as burglary case with a self-defense issue,” rather than a murder. She added, “Our office could not advise or assist them because of our obvious conflict.”
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