wjxt logo

Keith Higgins unseats Jackie Johnson as Brunswick district attorney

Incumbent Republican District Attorney Jackie Johnson was defeated by Independent Keith Higgins in the race for Brunswick Judicial Circuit.
Incumbent Republican District Attorney Jackie Johnson was defeated by Independent Keith Higgins in the race for Brunswick Judicial Circuit.

Incumbent Republican District Attorney Jackie Johnson was defeated by Independent Keith Higgins in the race for Brunswick Judicial Circuit.

Here’s a breakdown of the vote:

Keith Higgins (I)
45,84853%
Jackie Johnson (R)
Incumbent
41,13847%
88.9% of Precincts Reporting

(64 / 72)

No Democrat qualified to run against Johnson before the deadline before the June primary -- as many of events about Ahmaud Arbery’s death at the hands of a former investigator for Johnson’s office and that man’s son came to light. Johnson was first appointed to the office in 2010.

Arbery was fatally shot last Feb. 23 when a white father and son armed themselves and pursued the unarmed 25-year-old Black man, who was running in their neighborhood, according to authorities. More than two months passed before Gregory McMichael and his son, Travis McMichael, were charged with felony murder and aggravated assault.

A third man, William “Roddie” Bryan, a neighbor of the McMichaels who authorities say had joined in their pursuit of Arbery and recorded the cellphone video of the shooting, also was subsequently charged with murder. All three men remain jailed, awaiting trial.

Gregory McMichael had been a longtime investigator for Johnson’s office. Johnson recused herself but handed the case off to a second district attorney. One county commissioner in Glynn County has claimed that officers were hesitant to arrest the McMichaels after the DA’s office told them it wasn’t necessary, but Johnson’s office has called that a “vicious lie” and denied wrongdoing The second prosecutor, George Barnhill, decided no charges were necessary. Barnhill was eventually removed over his own conflict of interest -- his son works for Johnson and had prosecuted an earlier case against Arbery.

Higgins will take over in January.

“I think there’s a need to have more transparency and more accountability in the office,” Higgins said. “First and foremost, part of the task is to create a greater degree of public confidence that things are being handled properly and the way they should and that everybody is treated equally fair under the law.”

Both Barnhill and Johnson are now being investigated by federal authorities. Barnhill also denies wrongdoing.


About the Authors:

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