BRUNSWICK, Ga. – One year after Ahmaud Arbery’s death, his mother filed a federal lawsuit Tuesday alleging there was a conspiracy to protect those responsible for killing her son.
Wanda Cooper filed the civil lawsuit Tuesday in the Southern District of Georgia against the three men accused of his murder -- Gregory McMichael, Travis McMichael and William Bryan -- as well as more than a dozen law enforcement officers, Glynn County, former Glynn County District Attorney Jackie Johnson and current Ware County District Attorney George Barnhill.
Cooper is seeking more than $1 million in damages.
The 47-page lawsuit claims the three men later indicted for malice murder and other charges were acting “on behalf and under the cover of Glynn County police.” Lawyers for Cooper allege that Glynn County police had effectively deputized the men to respond to intrusions at a house under construction and were part of a “deliberate effort to cover up Ahmaud’s murder.”
Arbery’s shooting death was not reported beyond the local media for months. No charges were filed in the case until cellphone video of the incident recorded by one of the defendants was leaked to a Brunswick radio station and went viral, sparking a public outcry. The Georgia Bureau of Investigation opened an inquiry and within 36 hours arrested the McMichaels -- a father and son. Bryan, who investigators said helped pursue Arbery through the Satilla Shores neighborhood and videotaped the shooting, was arrested a few weeks later.
The lawsuit claimed that the morning after Arbery was killed, Waycross Circuit District Attorney George Barnhill met with Glynn County detectives, before he was even appointed as prosecutor in the case, to tell them he had concluded that the “act was a justifiable homicide.”
The lawsuit contains 12 counts: excessive force and unlawful seizure; failure to intervene; conspiracy to violate Fourth Amendment rights; conspiracy to interfere with civil rights; failure to prevent harm; state-created danger; substantive due process; failure to supervise; discipline and train; denial of access to courts; conspiracy to obstruct justice; wrongful death/survival action; conspiracy/battery; willful and wanton misconduct; and libel.
“If not for the video of Ahmaud’s killing being released, the Glynn County Police Department, Rash, Gregory McMichael, Travis McMichael, Bryan, Johnson, and Barnhill would have successfully conspired to deprive Ahmaud of his constitutional rights,” the suit said.
Jason Sheffield, the attorney for Travis McMichael, responded with a statement noting the one-year mark since Arbery’s death and respectful of Cooper desire to get justice for her son.
“We respect the Arbery family and we understand the tragedy that has happened to them. And we absolutely respect their right to move forward, using the laws of this state to try to do what they feel is the right thing for themselves,” Sheffield said. “This is a day that belongs to the Arbery family.”