Ex-Brunswick DA indicted for misconduct in Ahmaud Arbery case surrenders

BRUNSWICK, Ga. – Jackie Johnson, who was district attorney for the Brunswick Judicial Circuit for 10 years, turned herself in at the Glynn County Sheriff’s Office early Wednesday morning.

Bond was set at $10,000, but she was released on her own recognizance, meaning she did not have to pay a cash bond.

Johnson, 49, who was strongly criticized over the way she handled the Ahmaud Arbery case, was indicted last week by a Glynn County grand jury on charges of violation of oath of public officer and obstruction of a police officer. The charges are related to the investigation surrounding the deadly shooting of Arbery.

Specifically, the indictment (in full at end of the article) accuses Johnson in February 2020 of violating her oath as district attorney “by showing favor and affection to Greg McMichael during the investigation.” Greg McMichael had once worked as an investigator in Johnson’s office.

Johnson also failed “to treat Ahmaud Arbery and his family fairly and with dignity,” the indictment states. It alleges that after Arbery’s death, Johnson sought the assistance of Waycross Judicial Circuit District Attorney George Barnhill and, after disqualifying her for office, recommended Barnhill to the Attorney General’s Office for appointment as the case prosecutor without disclosing that she had previously sought Barnhill’s assistance on the case.

The indictment also alleges Johnson “knowingly and willfully” directed officers to not arrest Greg McMichael’s adult son Travis McMichael.

Attorney General Chris Carr announced the indictment on Thursday after requesting that the Georgia Bureau of Investigation launch an investigation in May 2020. A judge signed the warrant for Johnson’s arrest on Thursday, the same day the indictment was handed down.

“What I think is important about the case is accountability. I think the attorney general in Georgia felt that it was very important, as do many people in the community, that she be held accountable. Whether she be convicted or not, that’s a separate question,” said Brunswick criminal defense lawyer Page Pate, who is not affiliated with the case. “These charges are not clear cut. It’s kind of a stretch to say simply because of the way she handled the situation, she committed a felony offense. That’s going to be an uphill climb for the attorney general, but regardless of the outcome, bringing the indictment here in Glynn County sends a strong message about accountability.”

Pate said “these criminal charges against her relate directly to what she did in the Arbery case and do not seem to impact any other case she had while she was a district attorney,” but if there’s evidence that Johnson showed favoritism or improperly influenced the actions of police, attorneys could seek to reopen those cases upon request.

New4Jax has reached out to the attorney general’s office to find out when Johnson will be in court next.

“Generally, in any state case in Georgia, after the arrest occurs, there’s a period of time before the person is called back into court to enter a formal plea,” Pate said. He said then motions could be filed, potentially hearings and then a trial if the case is not resolved.

New4Jax called John Ossick, the attorney based in Kingsland who is representing Johnson, but was unable to get through to him.

If convicted, the violation of oath of a public officer is a felony charge that carries a sentence of one to five years. The obstruction and hindering a law enforcement officer charge is a misdemeanor that carries up to 12 months.

Gregory and Travis McMichael armed themselves and pursued Arbery, 25, in a pickup truck on Feb. 23, 2020, after they spotted Arbery running in their neighborhood just outside the coastal city of Brunswick. Their neighbor William “Roddie” Bryan Jr. joined the chase and took cellphone video showing Travis McMichael shooting Arbery with a shotgun. Greg McMichael told police they suspected Arbery was a burglar and Travis McMichael shot him in self-defense. Prosecutors have said Arbery was unarmed and was carrying no stolen items when he was killed.

The McMichaels and Bryan weren’t charged in the killing until more than two months later, after the video was leaked online and the GBI took over the case.

All three men are scheduled to stand trial this fall on murder charges. Jury selection is set to begin Oct. 18.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.