Georgia deputy resigns over Ahmaud Arbery comment

Ahmaud Arbery was killed Feb. 23, 2020, in a neighborhood outside Brunswick.

Ahmaud Arbery was killed Feb. 23, 2020, in a neighborhood outside Brunswick.

A Middle Georgia deputy who was suspended this month after calling Ahmaud Arbery a criminal and saying he got the death penalty has resigned from the department, officials said.

Deputy Paul Urhahn, a 20-year veteran of the Houston County Sheriff’s Office, was suspended without pay Jan. 10 after making a comment on Macon television station WGXA-TV’s Facebook post about Arbery’s killers being sentenced to life in prison in the high-profile case.

“That criminal Arbery still got the death penalty though,” Urhahn wrote in the since-deleted comment. The backlash to his remark was swift, with scores of people sharing screenshots of the post and calling online for the deputy’s firing.

Last week, Houston County Sheriff Cullen Talton told Urhahn he was “suspended without pay pending termination” after an internal investigation found he violated multiple department policies governing employee conduct. The veteran deputy was given 10 days to appeal the decision but chose to resign instead, according to the sheriff’s office.

“After the Houston County Sheriff’s Office became aware of comments made by Paul Urhahn on social media, the Sheriff’s Office conducted (an) internal investigation. It was determined Paul Urhahn had violated departmental policy and was suspended pending termination,” the department said in a statement. “Paul Urhahn chose not to appeal the decision and has resigned.”

In his resignation letter obtained by WGXA, Urhahn told the sheriff he was off duty when the post was made and that he was exercising his “Constitutional Right to Free Speech.”

He said his comment led to “a very unfortunate series of events” and that he didn’t agree with the way things were handled by the sheriff’s office.

“After deep consideration, I cannot continue as a member of this team and organization,” Urhahn wrote. “To continue to do so would be against who I am and what I believe in.”

Arbery, a 25-year-old Black man, was killed in February 2020 after being chased through a Glynn County neighborhood by three white men in pickup trucks for about five minutes. His murder, captured on cellphone video, led to widespread demonstrations when the footage became public two months later.

Travis McMichael, who killed Arbery with two shotgun blasts; his father Greg, a former investigator with the local district attorney’s office; and their neighbor William “Roddie” Bryan were convicted in November after a high-profile trial that lasted about seven weeks.

Travis McMichael (left), William "Roddie" Bryan and Greg McMichael were sentenced to life in prison for the 2020 murder of Ahmaud Arbery.

Credit: Associated Press

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Credit: Associated Press

Greg and Travis McMichael were sentenced Jan. 7 to life in prison without the possibility of parole for Arbery’s murder. Bryan, who filmed the disturbing cellphone video of Arbery falling dead in the street, was given life in prison with the chance of parole.

The three men also face federal hate crimes charges in a trial set to begin Feb. 7.