The actions of two South Georgia district attorneys, Jackie Johnson, of the Brunswick Judicial Circuit, and George Barnhill, of Waycross, figure to be central to any federal probe.
“The request to the U.S. Department of Justice includes, but is not limited to, investigation of the communications and discussions by and between the Office of the District Attorney of the Brunswick Judicial Circuit and the Office of the District Attorney of the Waycross Judicial Circuit related to this case,” the AG’s office said in a statement released Sunday night.
Johnson has disputed claims from two county commissioners who say her office stopped police officers from making arrests on the day Arbery was shot to death while jogging through a mostly white subdivision just south of Brunswick.
» COMPLETE COVERAGE: Ahmaud Arbery shooting
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.
Jackie Johnson, district attorney of the Brunswick Judicial Circuit. (Brunswick Judicial Circuit photo)
The AG’s office alleges Johnson invited Barnhill to review evidence in the case and provide guidance to Glynn police before he was officially appointed.
Records show that, on the day after the shooting, Barnhill told police he believed the McMichaels had just cause to pursue Arbery, whom they had suspected in a neighborhood burglary. The unarmed jogger, said Barnhill, was the aggressor and the McMichaels acted in self-defense.
Barnhill stepped away from the case after Arbery’s mother, Wanda Cooper Jones, discovered Barnhill’s son was employed by the Brunswick DA.
Cooper Jones did not know at the time that the younger Barnhill, also named George, had once prosecuted Arbery. Greg McMichael had also worked that case, the elder Barnhill wrote.
The Waycross DA wrote in his request for recusal that he learned about those crossed paths “about 3-4 weeks ago.”
“The request of April 7, 2020 did not provide any reason for the delay in contacting the Office of the Attorney General to request appointment of a new prosecutor since the discovery of those facts,” the AG’s statement said. “Nor did the request of April 7, 2020, reveal that, on April 2, 2020, the Waycross Circuit District Attorney had provided the Glynn County Police Department with a written opinion that no arrests should be made in the case.”