Nearly one year after Ahmaud Arbery was shot to death by a former Glynn County cop and his son in a Glynn County neighborhood, Gov. Brian Kemp is asking the Georgia Legislature to repeal a Civil War-era citizen’s arrest law that was initially cited as a reason to not to hold the killers accountable.
Kemp on Tuesday said the “horrific killing” of Arbery rocked not only Brunswick but communities across the state.
“Ahmaud was a victim of vigilante-style of violence that has no place in Georgia,” Kemp said. “And some tried to justify the actions of his killers by claiming they had the protection of an antiquated law that is ripe for abuse.”
The Glynn County prosecutor passed jurisdiction of the case to the Ware County District Attorney George Barnhill because Gregory McMichael used to work as an investigator for the Glynn County DA and, earlier, for the Glynn County Police Department.
A former prosecutor who examined Arbery’s case told police the McMichaels acted within the scope of Georgia’s citizen arrest statute and that Travis Mcmichael fired his weapon in self-defense. After Barnhill reviewed the case, he wrote, “We do not see grounds for an arrest.”
The McMichaels and a third man, William “Roddie” Bryan Jr., who’s credited with pursuing Arbery and recording cellphone video of the killings, were not arrested until May when that video was leaked to a Southeast Georgia radio station and public outcry over Arbery’s death boiled over.
All three men remain in jail while awaiting trial on charges that include felony murder. They claim Arbery was a burglary suspect and they had “probable cause” to stop him as he fled the neighborhood and acted in self-defense.
At the McMichaels’ most court appearance in November, a request for bond was denied after the judge heard testimony that Travis McMichael uttered a racial slur after he shot Arbery three times with a shotgun.
Yet the video seems to show that Arbery was trying to avoid confrontation with the McMichaels when the younger man opened fire on him. Only after the first shot was fired did Arbery attempt to confront Travis McMichael, who was holding what appeared to be a shotgun.
The law states:
Kemp said the legislation is proposing closes “dangerous” loopholes in the statute and it has the support of both law enforcement agencies and civil rights advocacy groups.
The governor said law enforcement officers outside of their jurisdiction and business owners will still have the power to “reasonably detain” offenders under the proposed law.
“Like the anti-hate crimes legislation (which passed the Legislature last June) reforming the citizen’s arrest statute is first and foremost about who we are as a state,” Kemp said.
He said he’ll work with leaders in both parties to ensure the legislation passes this session.
The following statement was released on behalf of Arbery’s father’s family in response to Kemp’s request:
“We are pleased with the Governor decisions to reform this statue and fix loopholes that could save the life of someone else. God is truly working as things like this take place we know more and more that Ahmaud’s death was not on vain. There is still work to do. We still have to get Justice for Ahmaud.”