For The Record

Grand jury indicts Brunswick DA for violating duty in Ahmaud Arbery case

By: - September 2, 2021 7:18 pm

A Glynn County grand jury has indicted an former prosecutor for the Brunswick Judicial Circuit alleging she hindered the investigation into the 2020 shooting death of Ahmaud Arbery. Protesters gathered outside the Glynn courthouse in May 2020 to demand justice for Arbery. Wes Wolfe /Georgia Recorder (file photo)

A Glynn County grand jury has indicted a former Brunswick district attorney for accusations that she hindered the investigation into the fatal shooting of Ahmaud Arbery.

Attorney General Chris Carr announced Thursday afternoon that former Brunswick Judicial Circuit District Attorney Jackie Lee Johnson has been charged with violating the oath of public office and obstruction and hindering a law enforcement officer. 

The charges against Johnson come after state prosecutions spent several months presenting evidence to the grand jury related to a case that caught national attention in 2020, and eventually led to three white men facing murder charges for the killing of Arbery, a 25-year-old Black man.

The indictment alleges that Johnson broke the law by showing “favor and affection” to suspect Gregory McMicheal, a former Glynn County police officer and investigator for the Brunswick district attorney’s office.

Authorities said Johnson also recommended Waycross Judicial Circuit District Attorney George E. Barnhill take over the case without properly disclosing she sought his help in the investigation previously.

She is also accused of blocking two Glynn County police officers from arresting Gregory McMichael’s son, Travis McMichael, who is also facing murder charges in the case. 

Johnson faces one to five years in prison for the felony count and up to 12 months for the misdemeanor count if she is convicted.

“Our office is committed to ensuring those who are entrusted to serve are carrying out their duties ethically and honestly,” Carr said in a statement Thursday. “We thank the Georgia Bureau of Investigation and the Glynn County grand jury for their hard work. While an indictment was returned today, our file is not closed, and we will continue to investigate in order to pursue justice.” 

Following the release of video footage of Arbery being chased down a suburban Brunswick street by the McMichaels and neighbor, scrutiny of the case reached a fever pitch.

After taking over for Johnson, D.A. Barnhill wrote to Glynn police investigators that the McMichaels had the right to make a citizens’ arrest under Georgia law.

Soon after the video went viral in spring 2020, a special prosecutor was appointed to the case, and the GBI became involved, leading to the arrest of the McMichaels and William “Roddie” Bryan, a family friend and neighbor who filmed the deadly confrontation.

They are scheduled to go on trial after the jury selection process begins on Oct. 18.

Additionally, the three men face federal hate crime charges.

The shooting death spurred a bipartisan effort by legislators to pass a historic hate crimes law in 2020, followed by repealing the state’s archaic citizen’s arrest law this year. Arbery’s death also sparked protests calling for racial justice in Georgia and the rest of the nation.

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Stanley Dunlap
Stanley Dunlap

Stanley Dunlap has covered government and politics for news outlets in Georgia and Tennessee for the past decade. At The (Macon) Telegraph he told readers about Macon-Bibb County’s challenges implementing its recent consolidation, with a focus on ways the state Legislature determines the fate of local communities. He used open records requests to break a story of a $400 million pension sweetheart deal a county manager steered to a friendly consultant. The Georgia Associated Press Managing Editors named Stanley a finalist for best deadline reporting for his story on the death of Gregg Allman and best beat reporting for explanatory articles on the 2018 Macon-Bibb County budget deliberations. The Tennessee Press Association honored him for his reporting on the disappearance of Holly Bobo, which became a sensational murder case that generated national headlines.

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