The U.S. Department of Justice is considering filing hate crimes charges against the two white men facing murder charges for the Feb. 23 shooting death of Ahmaud Arbery as he jogged through a Brunswick neighborhood.
The justice department said Monday it is weighing a request by Georgia Attorney General Chris Carr to look into the handling of the case that stalled for two months until the arrest of Greg and Travis McMichael last week, soon after the third prosecutor who worked the case called in the Georgia Bureau of Investigation.
Also Monday, Carr tapped yet another prosecutor to take over the case. Joyette Holmes, District Attorney of the Cobb County Judicial Circuit and the first black woman to serve in that position. The prosecutor’s office in the large metro county is better equipped to handle a case that is drawing national attention and has grown in complexity since the district attorney for the Atlantic Judicial Circuit took it on last month.
Arbery, a 25-year-old black man, was shot in the Glynn County suburban neighborhood Satilla Shores after the gun-wielding McMichaels confronted him.
The McMichaels told police Arbery fit the description of a burglary suspect and that they intended to force him to stop and hold him until law enforcement arrived. New surveillance video appears to show Arbery just before the shooting going into a house under construction on Satilla Drive.
Attorneys representing the Arbery family, the Georgia NAACP and other organizations are calling for the resignation of two other prosecutors for declining to file charges against the McMichaels. The two men are charged with murder and aggravated assault and remain in jail after a judge denied them bond Friday.
“We are assessing all of the evidence to determine whether federal hate crime charges are appropriate,” DOJ spokeswoman Kerri Kupec said in a statement. “In addition, we are considering the request of the Attorney General of Georgia and have asked that he forward to federal authorities any information about the handling of the investigation.”
The release of the video sparked national outrage and Gov. Brian Kemp offered to send the GBI to look into the killing. Holmes is taking over the case from Atlantic special prosecutor Tom Durden.
“This case has grown in size and magnitude since ( Durden) accepted the appointment on April 13, 2020, and as an experienced District Attorney, Tom has recognized that another office is better suited from a resource perspective to now handle the case,” Carr said
A federal prosecution would open up the potential for hate crimes charges. Georgia is one of four states without a hate crimes law and a bipartisan group of state lawmakers are making a renewed push for Georgia’s Senate to pass hate crimes legislation after House Bill 426 stalled last year in the Senate Judiciary Committee.
Rep. Chuck Efstration, a Republican from Dacula and sponsor of the bill, said lawmakers should make passing his hate crime bill a priority when they resume the 2020 legislative session, suspended in mid-March as COVID-19 cases spiked in Georgia.
“For two years, I have been working to pass a hate crimes law in Georgia,” Efstration said. “Speaker David Ralston made this bipartisan bill a priority in the Georgia House of Representatives last year, and I am calling on the State Senate to pass House Bill 426 as soon as possible.”