The verdict in the trial of the men who killed Ahmaud Arbery on Feb. 23, 2020, has been delivered, but this particular saga has not concluded. While attention has been focused on the trio who participated in the incident that led to the death of Arbery, this is not just a tale of murder: It can be an instructive example of government misconduct at the local level.
Former Georgia District Attorney Jackie Johnson has been being accused of mishandling the Arbery murder case. Authorities recently booked her into jail after she allegedly shielded the three men from arrest in connection with the young man’s death.
The Washington Examiner reported:
“Johnson, who had been the community’s top prosecutor at the time of the Arbery murder in 2020, was indicted by a grand jury … She faces a felony charge of violating her oath of office and a misdemeanor count of obstructing police work.
“Johnson is being prosecuted by Georgia Attorney General Chris Carr’s office. She has denied any wrongdoing and said she recused her office from the case because one of the men now convicted in the murder of Arbery, Greg McMichael, had been an employee, according to CBS News.”
The grand jury indictment against Johnson suggested she violated her oath by “showing favor and affection” to Gregory McMichael and “failing to treat Arbery and his family fairly and with dignity.” It also claimed the former district attorney obstructed police by “directing that Travis McMichael [who held the gun] should not be placed under arrest.”
Gregory McMichael, Travis’ father, had worked in Johnson’s office as an investigator until 2019. Prior to that, he was a police officer. After the murder, he left Johnson a voicemail seeking advice.
Johnson came under scrutiny in May 2020 when two Glynn County officials revealed she had intervened to ensure the McMichaels were not arrested after the shooting — despite the fact that officers were ready to book the men. Glynn County Commissioner Dr. Peter Murphy told reporters that “after multiple calls back and forth, the investigator was told by her (Johnson’s) assistant, a man named Rocky Bridges, that no arrests were to be made.”
Commissioner Allen Booker also chimed in, telling the Atlanta Journal-Constitution that Johnson attempted to protect the two men. “The police at the scene went to her, saying they were ready to arrest both of them. These were the police at the scene who had done the investigation,” he explained. “She shut them down to protect her friend McMichael.”
Lee Merritt, an attorney representing Arbery’s mother, said Johnson “should spend time in prison” and that “her actions are not just acts of negligence, but she actively worked to cover up the murder.”
The former district attorney denied the allegations, pointing out that she immediately recused herself from the case because of her prior working relationship with Gregory McMichael. Atlanta Black Star reported:
“Johnson was arrested for violation of oath of a public officer and obstruction and hindering a law enforcement officer on Sept. 8. She was released on a $10,000 bond. Johnson will face one to five years if convicted for violating her oath and up to one year in prison for hindering law enforcement.”
But Wait, There’s More
Johnson might not be the only public official who finds herself in hot water over the Arbery case. The Georgia Bureau of Investigation also is investigating the second district attorney who handled this matter. Atlanta Black Star noted that “Waycross District Attorney George Barnhill told the Glynn County Police Department there was ‘insufficient probable cause to issue arrest warrants’ for the men accused in his killing because they were attempting to detain Arbery for a citizen’s arrest.”
Some have suggested that Barnhill was attempting to craft the McMichaels’ defense, citing the fact that none of the men involved in the incident claimed they were trying to carry out a citizen’s arrest. In a memo written to the local police department, the district attorney made the case against charging the men, referring to Arbery’s history of mental illness. Barnhill was later compelled to recuse himself from the case after the victim’s mother pointed out that his son also worked with Gregory McMichael in Johnson’s office.
“It appears Travis McMichael, Greg McMichael, and Bryan William [sic] were following, in ‘hot pursuit, a burglary suspect, with solid first-hand probable cause, in their neighborhood, and asking/telling him to stop. It appears their intent was to stop and hold this criminal suspect until law enforcement arrived. Under Georgia law, this is perfectly legal,” Barnhill wrote in his memo.
If shown to be accurate, the allegations against Johnson are a stark reminder that Americans are missing significant information when they focus primarily on wrongdoing at higher levels of government. As the saying goes: “All politics is local.” Local government officials can have a far more profound impact on a citizen’s life than those serving in state capitals and Washington, D.C.
It was not President Joe Biden or Georgia Governor Brian Kemp who allegedly attempted to cover up a murder and shield men who should have been arrested and tried. It was a local district attorney who reportedly tried to protect a former employee instead of letting the justice system run its course.
If the allegations prove to be true, Arbery’s family was not going to be denied justice from anyone in the federal government; indeed, it may be the authorities closest to home that were responsible for ensuring the men involved in the encounter saw their day in court. If the video showing the altercation between Arbery and the three men had not gone viral, it is perhaps likely the local government would never have tried to bring these men to justice. For this reason, Americans should focus closely on what is happening in their own cities before worrying about corruption in Washington, D.C.
~ Read more from Jeff Charles.