Retired DA investigator accused in Ahmaud Arbery’s death worked for years without arrest powers

Gregory McMichael and his son, Travis, are charged with murder, aggravated assault

The GBI investigating possible prosecutorial misconduct on behalf of Johnson and another district attorney in Arbery's case.

BRUNSWICK, Ga. – One of the men facing murder charges in the death of Ahmaud Arbery spent more than two decades as the chief investigator for the Brunswick District Attorneys Office.

Last Thursday, Gregory McMichael and his son, Travis, were arrested and charged with felony murder and aggravated arrest. We’ve known since we first reported Arbery’s Feb. 23 shooting death that the father of the man who fired the fatal shots was a retired investigator with the DA’s office -- a fact that contributed the Georgia Attorney General’s request for state and federal investigations of why the two men were not arrested for 2½ months.

The I-TEAM learned Tuesday that Gregory McMichael spent many years of his tenure with the District Attorneys Office without maintaining a proper certification to be a law enforcement officer.

Personnel records obtained by News4Jax show that in 2014, McMichael faced suspension of his certification with the Georgia Peace Officer Standards and Training Council. Because of his deficit in training hours, McMichael had not had arrest powers since 2006.

McMichael had to turn in his badge, gun and keys and was not allowed to serve subpoenas or work in the field in any manner.

In a 2014 email to District Attorney Jackie Johnson, another investigator with the District Attorney investigator who Johnson tasked to look into the issue told her because he didn’t have arrest powers and had not had them since Jan 2006 “liability for any improper actions by Greg would fall on Greg, the District Attorneys Office and you personally.”

McMichael told investigators at the time the lapse in training was due to two heart attacks, his wife's cancer and a subsequent bankruptcy over medical bills.

We reached out to Johnson to find out if McMichael made arrests or if the state faced lawsuits as a result of the oversight. We did not hear back at the time of publication.

McMichael was ultimately granted a waiver from Georgia POST and allowed to continue on as an investigator with her office after Jackie Johnson personally addressed the council on his behalf.

In a letter to then POST Director Mitch Jones, Jackie Johnson thanked him for the council’s decision to grant the waiver to Mr. McMichael so that he could continue to serve as an investigator with her office.

“This situation has been a great embarrassment to me and to investigator McMichael. It has negatively impacted my office, and I have taken measures to ensure that this doesn’t happen again. Please accept my sincere apology,” wrote Johnson in 2014.

McMichael had his certification suspended by the Georgia Peace Officer Standards and Training Council in 2019 for again failing to maintain training, this time for 2018.

McMichael was allowed to stay with the District Attorney’s Office as a staff liaison and report to work at the Camden County District attorney’s Office until his retirement in June 2019. McMichael was not allowed to carry a firearm, badge or operate any vehicle with lights, sirens or police radio.

Earlier Tuesday, Georgia Attorney General Chris Carr asked the GBI and federal authorities to probe how local prosecutors handled the killing of 25-year-old as he ran through the Satilla Shores neighborhood.

"Unfortunately, many questions and concerns have arisen regarding, among other things, the communications between and actions taken by the District Attorneys of the Brunswick and Waycross Circuits. As a result, we have requested the GBI to review in order to determine whether the process was undermined in any way,'' Carr said in a statement Tuesday.

Johnson disputes accusations that she told Glynn County police not to arrest McMichael after Arbery’s death.

Gregory McMichael’s records show he began his law enforcement career at the Glynn County Police Department as a patrolman in 1982.

He then became a criminal and narcotics investigator and, eventually, a corporal overseeing 10 police officers.

In January 1989, he retired as a corporal from Glynn County police and worked for about four months as a conservation ranger for the Georgia Department of National Resources.

In July/August of that year, he joined the Brunswick Police Department as a patrolman, but only worked there for one month.

McMichael then left law enforcement for more than five years, working in sales first for a distributor of beer and liquor, then selling boats.

In 1995, he resurfaced in law enforcement at the Glynn County Sheriff’s Office as a deputy bailiff for about three months, then moved over to the Brunswick Judicial Circuit in 1995 where he worked until he retired in 2019.

The I-TEAM confirmed with the council Tuesday that today it opened a new and active investigation into McMichael last week. They could not comment on the nature of that investigation, only saying it was ongoing despite the fact McMichael retired in 2019.

News4Jax asked the Brunswick District Attorney’s office if McMcMichael made any arrests during the time he was without arrest powers and how this impacted the district attorney’s office. We’ll let you know when they respond.

About the Authors:

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

Lynnsey Gardner is an Edward R. Murrow award-winning investigative reporter and fill-in anchor for The Local Station.