76ºF

Ahmaud Arbery family lawyer: Feds looking into how case handled

Attorney for Arbery’s mother says U.S. Attorney confirmed investigation to family

A lawyer for the family of Ahmaud Arbery said Monday that a federal prosecutor told the slain man’s mother federal officials are investigating potential misconduct by local officials who handled the case.

Lawyer Lee Merritt said U.S. Attorney Bobby Christine, whose jurisdiction includes southern Georgia, met with him and Arbery's mother, Wanda Cooper-Jones, on Thursday.

“They wanted us to know they had already been involved in the investigation," Merritt said.

In a statement, Merritt said Christine’s office is investigating why it took more than two months went by without police making any arrests in Arbery’s death.

Merritt said that involves the Department of Justice considering “both civil and criminal charges against state officials and conspirators.”

Merritt’s statement went on to say: “We left that meeting feeling satisfied that the DOJ would do their part to fully investigate all players involved in this murder and would hold those responsible accountable.”

Barry Paschal, a spokesman for Christine, declined to confirm or deny whether the meeting happened.

“Our office does not discuss active investigations, including addressing whether or not those investigations exist,” Paschal said.

The Georgia Bureau of Investigation had already said it was looking into the actions of District Attorneys Jackie Johnson of Brunswick and George Barnhill of Waycross at the request of Georgia Attorney General Chris Carr. He also asked the U.S. Department of Justice to investigate the handling of Arbery’s death investigation. The DOJ is also assessing whether federal hate crime charges are appropriate and said it "will take any appropriate action that is warranted by the facts and the law.”

Arbery was fatally shot Feb. 23 when a father and son pursued the 25-year-old after spotting him running in their subdivision just outside of Brunswick. They told police they believed he was responsible for break-ins in their neighborhood.

According to a 911 call, the father and son tried to stop Arbery in the neighborhood after seeing him leave a property where a home was under construction. The homeowner, who has surveillance video of multiple people stopping at the open property, has said that nothing was taken from the construction site.

After Arbery’s killing, more than two months passed before Gregory McMichael, 64, and his son, Travis McMichael, 34, were arrested on charges of felony murder and aggravated assault. They were taken into custody less than two days after the case was handed over to GBI. That hand-off came the same day video of the deadly shooting leaked online.

The man who filmed Arbery’s killing, William “Roddie” Bryan Jr., was arrested Thursday on charges of felony murder and criminal attempt to commit false imprisonment. According to arrest warrants obtained from GBI, Bryan attempted “to confine and detain” Arbery “utilizing his vehicle on multiple occasions" during the encounter that ended with Arbery’s killing.

Attorneys representing Arbery’s family told TMZ in an interview that the FBI was behind Bryan’s arrest.

The video of the fatal shooting sparked national outrage and questions about the handling of the case by local authorities.

The elder McMichael worked as an investigator for Johnson, the Brunswick Circuit District Attorney, before retiring a year ago. Because of that, Johnson stepped away from the case, asking Carr to appoint Waycross Circuit District Attorney George Barnhill to replace her.

In his request to GBI for an investigation of the attorneys, Carr said he learned that not long after Barnhill was appointed, Barnhill found out his son, an assistant DA in Johnson’s office, had worked with Gregory McMichael in a previous case involving Arbery. But, Carr said, Barnhill “held onto the case for several more weeks after making this discovery” and didn’t alert the AG to the conflict until April 7.

Before Barnhill recused himself, he wrote a letter saying he believed the McMichaels had been justified in trying to hold Arbery until police arrived and their actions were “perfectly legal.”

Carr said that opinion was first given before Barnhill was appointed to replace Johnson but his office was not made aware of Barnhill’s involvement before handing him the case.

Johnson has defended her office’s involvement and said those who claimed she also stopped police from making an arrest in the shooting are lying.

The Glynn County Police Department, which did not arrest the McMichaels in the months following the shooting, has also come under fire following the release of the video showing the shooting. A photo shows an officer with the department texted the owner of the under-construction home, telling him to contact the elder McMichael if he saw any “action” on his surveillance camera.


About the Authors: