Glynn County District Attorney Jackie Johnson disputes accounts from two county commissioners who say her office stopped police officers from making arrests on the day Ahmaud Arbery was shot to death.
Commissioners Peter Murphy and Allen Booker on Friday said that police investigating the Feb. 23 shooting contacted Johnson’s office to say they intended to arrest Greg McMichael, 64, and his son Travis McMichael, 34.
“They were told not to make the arrest,” Murphy said.
“She shut them down to protect her friend McMichael,” Booker said.
Greg McMichael, now retired, once worked as an investigator in Johnson’s office. On Thursday, The GBI charged him and Travis McMichael with felony homicide and aggravated assault in the case.
The commissioners who accuse Johnson of intervening in the case cited direct accounts from police officials In her statement issued Friday night, Johnson said these accusations were false and “an attempt to make excuses and ignore the problems at the Glynn County Police Department, for which they are ultimately responsible.”
The news comes as Attorney General Chris Carr says he will be re-examining the handling of the investigation into the shooting.
“I will be looking into how the Ahmaud Arbery case was handled from the outset,” Carr said Saturday. “The family, the community and the state of Georgia deserve answers. We need to know exactly what happened, and we will be working to find those answers.”
Johnson acknowledged that two assistant district attorneys did speak to police on the day of the shooting. She said her assistants informed police that her office had a conflict of interest because of its relationship with Gregory McMichael. She said she never spoke personally to any police officer.
“Further, no Assistant District Attorney in the office directed any Glynn County police officer not to make an arrest,” she said. Johnson recused herself four days after the shooting.
The commissioners also complained that Johnson brought in George Barnhill, the Ware County district attorney, in to review the case before he was appointed to prosecute it by Carr. Johnson confirmed that her office had suggested Waycross District Attorney George Barnhill confer on the case.
The day after the shooting, Barnhill told Glynn police they had no probable cause to arrest the McMichaels. After viewing the evidence and the video of the shooting that went viral this week, Barnhill told the police the McMichaels were justified in their decision to pursue Arbery because they suspected him of committing burglaries and the shooting appeared to be self-defense.
Carr later officially assigned Barnhill to the case, but Barnhill also was forced to recuse himself after Arbery’s family complained that his son worked as an assistant in Johnson’s office.
Carr then named Tom Durden, the Hinesville district attorney, as special prosecutor.
Johnson said Glynn police should have immediately called the GBI to investigate. She blamed that failure on Police Chief John Powell, who was arrested on Feb. 27 on unrelated charges of perjury and violating his oath of office that emanated from a 2019 scandal last year that involved the department’s narcotics enforcement squad. He has been on leave since.
“As evidenced by the events of this week, the GBI was able to investigate, make a probable cause determination, and make arrests within two days of receiving the case,” Johnson said. “That is what a law enforcement agency does.”
Support real journalism. Support local journalism. Subscribe to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution today. See offers.
Your subscription to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution funds in-depth reporting and investigations that keep you informed. Thank you for supporting real journalism.
Download the new AJC app. More local news, more breaking news and in-depth journalism. AJC.com. Atlanta. News. Now.
Download the new AJC app. More local news, more breaking news and in-depth journalism.