Commissioner: District Attorney blocked arrests of father, son in Ahmaud Arbery case

Photo: Daily

Investigators with Glynn County Police Department had cellphone video of Ahmaud Arbery being chased down and killed by two armed men on Feb. 23, the day the deadly shooting happened, but arrests weren’t made for more than two months.

In fact, retired Brunswick District Attorney investigator Gregory McMichael and his son Travis McMichael were arrested only after the video of the deadly shooting was anonymously leaked to radio station WGIG and went viral. Photos of their arrests from Thursday night (pictured above) were provided by the Daily Mail.

The delayed response triggered activists to ask for the resignation of Brunswick Judicial District Attorney Jackie Johnson, chanting, “Jackie got to go” through medical masks on Friday.

Glynn County commissioner calls for resignation of Brunswick district attorney.

Glynn County Commissioner J. Peter Murphy said in a conversation with Chief Powell that he learned District Attorney Jackie Johnson blocked an investigator with the Glynn County Police Department from arresting the former district attorney investigator and his son the day of the shooting.

Later, District Attorney Johnson recused herself from the Arbery case.

“Basically she [the investigator] was told to stand down, i.e., there are to be no arrests today,” Murphy said.

Waycross District Attorney George Barnhill was assigned the case next, but he had to recuse himself later after Arbery’s mother discovered his son also worked for the Brunswick District Attorney’s Office where McMichael worked.

RELATED: How video can change the course of a murder investigation | Activists in Brunswick, Jacksonville protest handling of Ahmaud Arbery case

In the letter, Barnhill told Glynn County Police Capt. Tom Jump, “The autopsy supports the initial opinion we gave you on Feb. 24th, 2020, at the briefing room in the Glynn County Police Department after reviewing the evidence you had at that time. We do not see grounds for an arrest of any of the three parties.”

“In other words, another stand down," Murphy said. “I mean, that attorney telling these police officers to stand down. So my question is, this is why I got so mad about it today, is there is a letter written in the Brunswick News, 29 leading citizens in Glynn county telling us to fire the police chief but not mentioning the district attorney or any of the actions to her office or associated to her office.

“I don’t see how they expect the police to go cuff these men up when they have been told directly on Sunday and on Monday by the district attorney’s office not to arrest anybody.”

Brunswick District Attorney Jackie Johnson said Friday that allegations that she directed Glynn County police officers not to make an arrest are false.

“It is unfortunate that Commissioners Murphy and Booker have chosen to make false accusations against District Attorney Jackie Johnson in an attempt to make excuses and ignore the problems at the Glynn County Police Department, for which they are ultimately responsible,” said a spokesperson for Johnson’s office. “Acting Police Chief Jay Wiggins has indicated that it was a mistake that then-police Chief John Powell did not immediately call in the Georgia Bureau of Investigation to investigate the death of Ahmaud Arbery.”

A spokesperson for the Brunswick Judicial District Attorney said two assistant district attorneys were contacted by the Glynn County Police Department on the day of the deadly shooting, but immediately cited a conflict of interest and stated that their office could not be involved.

“At no time on Feb. 23, 2020, did District Attorney Jackie Johnson have any conversation with any Glynn County police officer about this case. Further, no Assistant District Attorney in the office directed any Glynn County police officer not to make an arrest,” said a spokesperson for Johnson's office. “While our office did assist in putting the Glynn County Police Department in contact with the District Attorney in the Waycross Circuit, we did not direct his actions or appoint him to the case. Rather, that was done by the Attorney General's Office of the State of Georgia. Our office made the Attorney General aware of our conflict and recusal by letter on Feb. 25, 2020.”

In a statement, District Attorney Johnson’s spokesperson said the Glynn County Police Department was using the district attorney’s willingness to advise “as an excuse to pass the puck and fail to act.”

About the Author:

Kelly Wiley, an award-winning investigative reporter, joined the News4Jax I-Team in June 2019.