Retired DA investigator accused in Arbery’s death missed ‘critically important’ training

Records: For 8 years, Gregory McMichael was acting as an investigator with no arrest powers due to lack of training

For 8 years of his time as an investigator, McMichael was not a certified law enforcement officer.

BRUNSWICK, Ga. – One of the men facing murder charges in the death of 25-year-old Ahmaud Arbery is a retired chief investigator for the Brunswick District Attorney’s Office.

Personnel records obtained by the News4Jax I-TEAM show, for eight of the years Gregory Michael was employed as a chief investigator under District Attorney Jackie Johnson, he had no arrest powers.

McMichael told investigators in 2014 he knew he was behind on training hours, but recently discovered he had not had arrest powers since 2006.

The lapse in state-mandated training for community-oriented policing, de-escalation, and use-of-force meant, between 2006 and 2014, McMichael didn’t have the authority or right to apply for arrest warrants, search warrants or conduct arrests under the color of the law.

“Essentially that individuals at that point in time have no more authority to exercise restraint or control over another individual than any other citizen, I would have,” said Georgia Peace Officer Standards and Training (POST) Council Executive Director Mike Ayers. “They have no seizure authority under the Fourth Amendment and they have no quasi-judicial immunity.”

It’s something that another investigator in the Brunswick District Attorney’s office pointed out to Johnson in a letter in 2014, writing, “Liability for any improper actions by Greg would fall on Greg, the district attorney’s office and you personally.”

Johnson and fellow investigator Mark Melton became aware of the deficit in McMichael’s training hours and his yearslong lack of arrest powers in April 2014, according to a memo in his personnel file.

At the time, McMichael had his department-issued firearm taken away, his badge and any other card identifying him as a deputy sheriff or District Attorney’s Office investigator. He was told he couldn’t serve subpoenas or work in the field until the issues were resolved.

Attorney Gene Nichols said McMichael’s status as a law enforcement officer during that eight-year period could call any case he worked on during that time into question.

“The biggest concern has got to be that he was involved in the prosecution and subsequent conviction of defendants in that area and he had no law enforcement capability or ability and nobody was told about it,” said Nichols. “He was out issuing subpoenas, bringing people in for statements. If he was out making arrests for the district attorney’s office and lo and behold they got convicted and he didn’t have the authority to do any of that then the concern that everyone has is that people were to jail, prison when they probably shouldn’t have.

“A lot of it is going to depend on how much involvement he had in each of the cases,” said Nichols.

In his application to the Georgia POST Council for a training waiver, McMichael told the council, between 2005 and 2009, he suffered two heart attacks, his wife was diagnosed with cancer and the couple filed for bankruptcy due to “overwhelming” medical bills.

McMichael went before the Georgia POST Council in June of 2014. His boss, Johnson, addressed the council on his behalf, his waiver was granted and he was allowed to continue on as the Chief Investigator for her office.

In 2018, he fell behind on his training again and was suspended by Georgia POST. Johnson took away his gun and badge again but reassigned him to be a liaison between her Brunswick office and the district attorney’s office in Camden County. He retired in June 2019.

Ayers, the executive director of the Georgia POST Council, said the training missed by McMichael over several years was critically important and mandated under the direction of former Gov. Nathan Deal. Ayers pointed out the training McMichael missed might have given McMichael the skills to avoid what unfolded in the cellphone video showing Arbery’s death after a pursuit by McMichael and his son.

“I think that it is the very core pillars that dictate how law enforcement interacts with the citizenry in the state of Georgia. Those classes are critically important, especially when you look at situations like de-escalation. How do you get a situation from getting out of hand? Which is potentially what you are looking at specifically in this situation,” Ayers said. “At that point in time, they [Greg and Travis McMichael] were not acting as law enforcement officers. If he had been a law enforcement officer, that de-escalation training definitely speaks to that whole issue."

Ayers said during the time period when McMichael lost his arrest powers, it wasn’t an uncommon issue across the state of Georgia with law enforcement officers. Ayers said it was up to agencies and individual officers to keep track of missed training and their arrest powers status.

Since, Ayers said, the Georgia POST has developed a new system with yearly audits of officers training and immediate notifications to officers when they are facing suspension.

Ayers said, in some cases in which cases were appealed because the officers didn’t have arrest powers, judges made exceptions under the pretense that the officers acting in “good faith.”

“Obtaining court orders could be a different situation as you do have to swear to affidavit in that situation,” said Ayers.

In a letter to the then Georgia POST Director Mitch Jones, Johnson said the situation was “a great embarrassment” and “negatively impacted my office.”

News4Jax has reached out repeatedly to the Brunswick District Attorney’s Office with questions regarding how many cases McMichael worked on and what duties he carried out from 2006 to 2014, but has yet to hear back from her office.

Gregory McMichael, 64, and his son, 34-year-old Travis McMichael, are charged with murder and aggravated assault in Arbery’s death, but those arrests didn’t come until after video of the shooting surfaced and the GBI was asked to take over the investigation last week.

About the Author:

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