Georgia Lawmakers Demand Ahmaud Arbery Prosecutors Be Removed From Office As Criminal Investigation Launched

There have been further calls for the Georgia prosecutors who first handled the case of Ahmaud Arbery to be removed from office, as a criminal investigation into their actions is launched.

Georgia's Attorney General Chris Carr has requested that the Georgia Bureau of Investigation (GBI) investigate how Glynn County District Attorney Jackie Johnson and Waycross District Attorney George Barnhill dealt with the shooting of Arbery, in a case that has attracted worldwide outcry.

Arbery, 25, was killed while jogging in a neighborhood just outside Brunswick, Georgia, on February 23. Gregory McMichael, 64, and his 34-year-old son Travis, who pursued Arbery in a pickup-up truck before shooting him three times, have been charged with murder after a video of the incident emerged.

The pair claim they chased Arbery believing he was a suspect alleged to have been involved in several break-ins in the local area and that Travis McMichael fired at the 25-year-old in self-defense.

The suspects were not charged until more than two months after Arbery was killed, prompting questions about how the original investigation was dealt with.

Johnson revealed that she recused herself from the investigation on February 27, citing a conflict of interest, as Gregory McMichael was a former investigator at her office.

Johnson said she then handed the case over to Barnhill, who failed to reveal that he had already suggested to the Glynn County Police Department that no charges should be brought forward in connection to the shooting, citing Georgia's citizen arrest, open carry and self-defense laws.

In an email to Glynn County Police Captain Tom Jump days before he recused himself from the case, Barnhill wrote that the McMichaels were in "hot pursuit" of Arbery and hoping to detain him until law enforcement arrived, which is "perfectly legal" under Georgia law.

Barnhill also suggested that Arbery's mental health records and prior convictions "help explain his apparent aggressive nature and his possible thought pattern to attack an armed man."

Several days later after his appointment, both district attorneys found that Barnhill's son—an assistant district attorney in Johnson's office—had previously worked with Gregory McMichael.
Despite knowing this information, Carr said that Barnhill "held onto the case" for several more weeks before also eventually recusing himself due to the conflict of interest on April 7.

Speaking at a rally outside the Old Courthouse in Brunswick on Tuesday, several Georgia lawmakers and other community leaders demanded that actions be brought forward against Johnson and Barnhill.

"These DAs did not do their jobs," Sen. Lester Jackson told the crowd. "Today I call on Gov. [Brian] Kemp for a special oversight review committee to begin the process of removing these district attorneys from office.

"Failure to do so would leave the fox in the henhouse."

State Sen. Lester Jackson (@DrLGJ3) one of several Georgia lawmakers demanding change in the wake of the #AhmaudArbery case.

Changes include hate crime laws, citizen's arrests and the removal of local district attorneys.

More TONIGHT on @WJCLNews:

— Alex Littlehales 13News Now (@AlexLittlehales) May 12, 2020

State Rep. James Beverly said the pair should be removed from office, and "if it's appropriate, that they be charged with criminal obstruction."

Rep. Al Williams previously told the Georgia Recorder that Johnson and Barnhill had "extremely biased, selfish reasoning" and that Gov. Kemp should consider removing them both from office.

In a statement released prior to the investigation being launched, the National District Attorney Association (NDAA) singled out Barnhill for the "gratuitous and detailed opinion" he gave to police before accepting the case.

"These actions can have an intended or unintended ability to influence potential grand jurors or trial jurors, while also making the new special prosecutor's job to objectively seek the truth significantly more difficult," the statement said.

"No prosecutor should inject his or her opinion into a pending case to the point where she or he becomes a potential witness and risks compromising the just outcome of a case."

The GBI confirmed they are proceeding with a criminal investigation after receiving a request from Carr.

"When a district attorney is unable to take on a case due to a conflict, our office must appoint another prosecutor to handle the case," Carr said.

"Unfortunately, many questions and concerns have arisen regarding, among other things, the communications between and actions taken by the District Attorneys of the Brunswick and Waycross Circuits."

Johnson has denied that her actions in connection to the case were untoward.

"I'm confident an investigation is going to show my office did what it was supposed to and there was no wrongdoing on our part," she told The Associated Press.

Johnson and Barnhill have been contacted for further comment.

Ahmaud Arbery
Demonstrators protest the shooting death of Ahmaud Arbery at the Glynn County Courthouse on May 8, 2020 in Brunswick, Georgia. Sean Rayford/Getty