Father, son accused in Ahmaud Arbery’s death pose risk of influencing witnesses, obstructing justice: Judge

Court document explains why bond was denied for Greg and Travis McMichael

In this image made from video, from left, father and son, Gregory and Travis McMichael, accused in the shooting death of Ahmaud Arbery in Georgia on Feb. 2020, listen via closed circuit tv in the Glynn County Detention center in Brunswick, Ga., on Thursday, Nov. 12, as lawyers argue for bond to be set at the Glynn County courthouse. The McMichaels chased and fatally shot Ahmaud Arbery, a 25-year-old Black man, after they spotted him running in their neighborhood just outside the port city of Brunswick. (AP Photo/Lewis Levine) (Lewis Levine, Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved)

A judge outlines in a court document why he denied bond for the father and son charged in the death of 25-year-old Ahmaud Arbery.

Following a two-day hearing last month, Chatham County Judge Timothy Walmsley decided Gregory McMichael, 64, and his 34-year-old son, Travis, will remain in jail while awaiting trial on charges, including felony murder, in the shooting death of the Black man running through a South Georgia neighborhood.

According to the order on the McMichaels’ petitions for bond, which News4Jax obtained Thursday, the court found the McMichaels “pose a significant risk of influencing witnesses and obstructing justice.” The court document states that during a body camera video from Feb. 23 -- the day of the deadly shooting -- Greg McMichael identified as retired law enforcement who had a gun that was issued to him by the Glynn County Police Department.

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Another example cited in the court document is that Greg McMichael attempted to contact current Brunswick District Attorney Jackie Johnson after the shooting.

“Jackie, this is Greg. Can you call me as soon as you possibly can? We’re, uh, my son and I have been involved in a shooting. And, uh, I need some advice. Please call me as soon as you can,” Greg McMichael said in a voicemail to Johnson that was played by Cobb County Deputy Chief Assistant District Attorney Jesse Evans during the bond hearing.

Johnson is Greg McMichael’s former boss. Greg McMichael worked as an investigator in her office for more than 20 years before retiring. The shooting was technically hers to prosecute before the case was reassigned to a different district attorney.

“The call itself is remarkable, particularly in light of the Glynn County District Attorney’s ultimate recusal and the course this case took to indictment,” the order states.

It goes on to say: “Moreover, additional evidence submitted during the hearing showed that Johnson previously intervened on Greg McMichael’s behalf concerning his POST records and a deficiency in training hours for multiple years. Arguably, he was seeking her influence again.”

PREVIOUS STORIES: Retired DA investigator accused in Ahmaud Arbery’s death worked for years without arrest powers | Retired DA investigator accused in Arbery’s death missed ‘critically important’ training

According to the court document, before his arrest, which occurred more than two months after Arbery was killed, Greg McMichael was apparently communicating with a third defendant, neighbor William “Roddie” Bryan, and “even referred to Bryan as an ally during the ongoing investigation.”

In addition, the court document says that while in custody, “Greg McMichael may have tried to impede the investigation and influence witnesses” by calling his wife and asking her to have his daughter delete posts from social media that were a potential source in the investigation. Court records also show Greg McMichael instructed his wife that “when he answers the phone, tell him flat out not to say anything” when referencing a future conversation between his wife and an unknown third party.

The order also references a separate phone call after the shooting.

“Greg McMichael is heard stating to a third party ‘no good deed goes unpunished’ when referencing the shooting and killing of Arbery,” the document says.

The order then references a coded letter Greg McMichael mailed from jail to a family friend, who testified at the bond hearing, and evidence presented by the state that included a phone call from Travis McMichael to his mother involving “his sister having her phone turned off to help evade investigation.” It also mentions that during the bond hearing when the family friend was presented with a text message that included a racial slur, he answered: “He was referring to a raccoon, I believe.”

The judge says in the order that the court must discount that friend’s testimony “due to bias and impeachment” and because the friend’s “statement of the probably bias of the remaining witnesses raise concerns that Travis McMichael has a close system of friends and family that would help him avoid possible accountability.”

In the order, the judge also writes: “The Court finds the Defendants pose a significant danger to persons, community or property.” The court document stated buckshot from the discharge of the shotgun was found lodged in a home near the shooting. It also points out that the McMcMichaels armed themselves and chased Arbery on public streets in broad daylight.

And the order notes that the McMichaels pose a flight risk because they each face a potential life sentence and “the Court is also concerned that the Defendants do not have jobs or real property in Glynn County.”

The McMichaels are being held in the Glynn County jail.

About the Authors:

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