Former Glynn County DA, Greg McMichael exchanged phone calls after Ahmaud Arbery killing, motion says

Former Glynn County District Attorney Jackie Johnson exchanged phone calls with Greg McMichael in the days following the murder of Ahmaud Arbery, according to a court motion filed by the state Attorney General’s Office.

McMichael, who once worked for Johnson as an investigator, was convicted on murder charges in November along with his son, Travis McMichael, and neighbor William “Roddie” Bryan for Arbery’s murder on Feb. 23, 2020. All three were convicted of federal hate crimes in February.

The phone calls suggest Johnson, even though she had recused herself from the case, was keeping Greg McMichael, her former employee, in the loop about the ongoing investigation.

Johnson was indicted by a Glynn County grand jury in September of two felony counts. In one, she is accused of obstruction for allegedly telling two police officers not to arrest Travis McMichael, who fired the fatal shotgun blasts, on the day of the shooting.

Johnson is also charged with a second felony count: violating her oath of office by failing to treat Arbery and his family fairly and with dignity; showing “favor and affection” to Greg McMichael; and failing to disclose she had asked neighboring DA George Barnhill to take the case before telling the AG’s office she had to recuse from it due to a conflict of interest.

The AG’s motion was in response to filings by Johnson’s lawyers to dismiss the two counts against her. In one motion filed in March, the attorneys wrote “there is not a scintilla of evidence” that shows Johnson told the two Glynn County police officers not to arrest Travis McMichael.

In its response filed Wednesday, the AG’s office did not address, with any specificity, the defense motion to dismiss that count. But it does contain new information to buttress its allegations in the violation-of-oath-of-office count.

Before the AG’s office filing, it had been made public that Greg McMichael called Johnson shortly after Arbery was chased down and killed. McMichael left a frantic voice message asking Johnson, “Could you call me as soon as you possibly can? My son and I have been involved in a shooting and I need some advice right away.”

The AG’s filing said Johnson returned McMichael’s call the next day and they spoke for nine minutes and 15 seconds. On March 8, 2020, McMichael called again and talked with Johnson for 13 minutes. They would exchange 13 more phone calls in the ensuing weeks, sometimes leaving voice messages or talking for as long as 21 minutes, the AG’s filing showed.

On their final call, on May 5, 2020, McMichael left Johnson a message in which he thanks her and then adds, “He’s gonna run interference for me right now and that’s damn good advice and I appreciate it very much,” the AG’s filing said, without specifying who McMichael was referring to.

Earlier that same day, Arbery’s killing received widespread condemnation with the release of Bryan’s cellphone video that showed Travis McMichael fire three blasts at Arbery during a struggle. The McMichaels would be arrested two days later.

The AG’s office filing also summarizes how Johnson got Barnhill, a DA from the Waycross circuit, to take the case because Greg McMichael once worked for her.

The day after the shooting, Barnhill met with Glynn County police to discuss the case. After watching Bryan’s cellphone video, Barnhill concluded the shooting was justified because it was in self-defense, the AG’s office filing said.

It wasn’t until three days later when Johnson properly contacted the AG’s office to let it know of her conflict of interest, the AG’s filing said. And while Johnson told the AG’s office Barnhill had agreed to take the case, she did not disclose Barnhill had already determined it was a case of self-defense, the filing said.

“Thus, Johnson effectively chose the outcome of the case despite having a conflict,” the AG’s office said.

The AG’s office also pointed to a chain of phone calls on April 3, 2020, that indicate Johnson was updating Greg McMichael with developments.

They begin with a 6:11 p.m. phone call from Barnhill to his son, who worked as a prosecutor in Johnson’s office. In that call, Barnhill told his son he was going to recuse himself from the case, the AG’s office said.

Minutes later, Barnhill’s son called Johnson and they talked for four minutes, the AG’s filing showed. A half hour later, Johnson called Greg McMichael. He didn’t pick up but he called her back at 7:15 p.m. and they talked for three minutes. Just two minutes after hanging up, Greg McMichael left a message for his son, who soon called him back. Father and son then spoke for two minutes and 30 seconds, the AG’s filing showed.

THE STORY SO FAR

Travis McMichael, Greg McMichael and William “Roddie” Bryan were convicted of the murder of Ahmaud Arbery by a state court jury last November and were sentenced to life in prison. They stood trial again in federal court, with a jury convicting them in February of committing hate crimes. Sentencing in that case is scheduled for August.

Former Glynn County District Attorney Jackie Johnson was indicted by a county grand jury in September of two felony counts: obstruction of the investigation and violating her oath of office. Her lawyers have sought to have the counts dismissed.