Former district attorney indicted over handling of Ahmaud Arbery case

ATLANTA — A grand jury in Georgia indicted former Glynn County District Attorney Jackie Johnson on charges related to the handling of the February 2020 death of 25-year-old Ahmaud Arbery, a Black man shot and killed while jogging in a south Georgia neighborhood, authorities announced Thursday.

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Johnson is accused of violation of oath of public officer and obstruction of a police officer, Georgia Attorney General Chris Carr said.

“Our office is committed to ensuring those who are entrusted to serve are carrying out their duties ethically and honestly,” the attorney general said in a statement. “While an indictment was returned today, our file is not closed, and we will continue to investigate in order to pursue justice.”

Charges were brought against Johnson more than a year after public outcry led to the arrests of Travis McMichael, Greg McMichael and William “Roddie” Bryan in Arbery’s death. The men have pleaded not guilty to several charges, including malice and felony murder.

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In an indictment, officials said Johnson showed “favor and affection” to Greg McMichael while investigating the shooting, and that she “knowingly and willfully” hindered Glynn County police officers from discharging their duties “by directing Travis McMichael should not be placed under arrest.”

Authorities said the McMichaels armed themselves on Feb. 23, 2020, and pursued Arbery as he was jogging through the Satilla Shores neighborhood near Brunswick. However, neither they nor Bryan were arrested for two months.

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Shortly after Arbery’s death, two Glynn County officials claimed that Johnson’s office blocked the immediate arrests of Greg McMichael, who previously worked as an investigator in her office, and his son, Travis, WSB-TV reported. In a statement to the news station, Johnson denied the allegation. She later recused herself from the case and handed it off to Waycross Judicial Circuit District Attorney George Barnhill, according to WSB.

In the indictment, officials said Jonson failed “to treat Ahmaud Arbery and his family fairly and with dignity” because she sought assistance from Barnhill before recusing herself and recommending that he be appointed as the case prosecutor without disclosing to the Attorney General’s Office that she had previously asked for his help.

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In a statement obtained by WJAX-TV, Lee Merritt, the attorney representing Arbery’s family, hailed the charges against Johnson, calling her “the prosecutor who allowed the truth surrounding Ahmaud Arbery’s murder to be concealed from the public.”

“Prosecutors must be held accountable when they interfere with investigations in order to protect friends and law enforcement,” Merritt said, adding that the family will continue to pursue charges against Barnhill for his handling of the case. “Ahmaud’s mother Wanda Cooper is grateful for everyone who continues to advocate for justice for Ahmaud and for accountability at every level.”

Johnson lost her bid for reelection as Glenn County district attorney in November, WSB reported.