Activists call for Citizen Review Board, removal of 2 Southeast Georgia district attorneys

Activist groups say DAs Johnson, Barnhill mishandled Ahmaud Arbery investigation

Activists and the family of Ahmaud Arbery, who was shot to death near Brunswick, are asking for two local district attorneys to resign. They also want more oversight of the Glynn county police department.

BRUNSWICK, Ga. – At a rally Tuesday morning demanding change within Glynn County law enforcement, Pastor Darren West and other leaders said they are pushing for a Citizen Review Board to handle complaints against the police department.

West said the board would then make recommendations to the county commission about how to hold officers accountable.

West said the issues start at the top for the police department, which he said has never had a person of color as its police chief.

“Not only has there never been a person of color [as chief], a person of color has never been considered to be the chief of the Glynn County Police Department,” West said. “Mind you, a police department that polices a city that’s 60 percent Black.”

West said he and other leaders want to see the commission commit to changing that pattern to regain the trust and confidence of the community.

“The police department that’s supposed to protect and serve, I’m here to let you know that the African-American and Hispanic communities do not feel protected or served," West said.

West pointed to something his group learned recently as an example of what he called a lack of accountability within the police department.

“The Community First Planning Commission, as we’ve been in ongoing meetings with [the police department] to try to come to some resolutions, we found out something about their body armor cameras. We found out that the officers are able to delete videos and information before they ever turn anything in,” West said. “I don’t know if I was supposed to say that, but I’m saying it anyway because it’s time for something to change. It is time for systemic change in the Glynn County Police Department.”

News4Jax has asked for comment from Glynn County PD on its body camera policy and whether officers have the ability to delete the content before turning in their body cameras.

The activists' demands come after a judge ruled Friday that voters cannot vote on a planned referendum that could have abolished the Glynn County Police Department altogether.

Superior Court Judge Charles Rose ruled the referendum was unconstitutional and ordered the measure be taken off the Nov. 3 ballot after state lawmakers passed the bill that created the referendum and Kemp signed it.

The Brunswick News reported that the Glynn County Supervisor of Elections said the board will not appeal the decision.

Waycross Circuit District Attorney George Barnhill and Brunswick Circuit District Attorney Jackie Johnson (Photos provided to WJXT)

Groups demand prosecutors be ousted

The Community First Planning Commission, a network of local pastors and other community leaders, and the ACLU of Georgia also demanded action Tuesday from state leaders, including the removal of Brunswick District Attorney Jackie Johnson and Waycross District Attorney George Barnhill.

The embattled attorneys came under fire earlier this year over their handling of the Ahmaud Arbery murder investigation.

Because of a connection to one of the suspects, Johnson recused her office from investigating Arbery’s shooting death and asked the attorney general to hand the case over to Barnhill -- who eventually also stepped aside under pressure because his son works for Johnson as an assistant prosecutor.

The attorney general eventually appointed Cobb County District Attorney Joyette M. Holmes, one of only seven Black county prosecutors in Georgia, to take over the case after cellphone video of Arbery’s shooting caused a national media firestorm.

Since the handling of the case came to light, there have been repeated calls for Johnson and Barnhill to be removed from office. Barnhill and Johnson deny any wrongdoing

Johnson is up for reelection and is facing a challenge from Independent candidate Keith Higgins. Barnhill is not on the November ballot.

West accused state leaders of “playing the game ‘kick the can’” and trying to push the responsibility until after the election in hopes they won’t have to do anything.

“We refuse to be quiet. You can delay this for a year and a half, we’re still going to be up here talking," West said. "We’re still going to be calling for justice.”

Ahmaud Arbery’s killing

Arbery was killed Feb. 23 while jogging in a Glynn County neighborhood.

Greg McMichael, Travis McMichael and William “Roddie” Bryan are now charged with murder in Arbery’s death, but those charges did not come until two months after Arbery was killed -- after the Georgia Bureau of Investigation took over the case from local investigators.

RELATED: Retracing the moments leading up to the shooting death of Ahmaud Arbery

According to police reports, Gregory and Travis McMichael, a father and son, armed themselves and pursued Arbery as he was running in the Satilla Shores neighborhood. Greg McMichael told police he suspected Arbery was a burglar and that Arbery attacked his son before being shot.

Bryan recorded the cellphone video of the fatal confrontation.

The video shows Arbery running on Satilla Drive before Travis and Greg McMichael, who are in a pickup truck stopped in the street ahead of Arbery, confront him.

Three gunshots can be heard on the video within a seven-second span -- one before a physical confrontation began between Travis McMichael and Arbery over what looks to be a shotgun.

In the last seconds, Arbery is seen trying to run away before falling to the ground.

It’s not clear in the video who fired the fatal shots, but the shooter’s father told police that Travis McMichael fired two shots, killing Arbery.

Two days after the cellphone video was leaked online, the McMichaels were arrested on May 7.

Bryan was arrested on May 22, and an arrest warrant said he tried “to confine and detain” Arbery without legal authority by “utilizing his vehicle on multiple occasions” before Arbery was shot.

In addition to malice murder and felony murder charges, the McMichaels and Bryan each are charged with two counts of aggravated assault and one count each of false imprisonment and criminal attempt to commit false imprisonment.

All three men have pleaded not guilty.

About the Authors:

Veteran journalist and Emmy Award winning anchor