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Ahmaud Arbery Protest
Image: Reuters/D. Chambers

Ahmaud Arbery case: Prosecutors under investigation

May 13, 2020

State and federal officials will probe the district attorneys' handling of the case in the fatal shooting of the unarmed jogger. Two men were not charged until a recently released video led to public outcry.


The attorney general of the US state of Georgia ordered an investigation on Tuesday into the prosecutors who first handled the case on the slaying of Ahmaud Arbery, an unarmed black man killed while jogging. Despite knowing the identity of the two men who pursued Arbery while he was out for a routine jog on February 23, no charges were filed until last week, following a nationwide outcry.

"Unfortunately, many questions and concerns have arisen," about the initial failure of prosecutors to lay charged, Attorney General Chris Carr said. He has asked the Georgia Bureau of Investigation (GBI) and federal authorities "to determine whether the process was undermined in any way.''

Arbery, 25, an avid jogger, was exercising on a residential street in the port city of Brunswick, Georgia, when he was pursued by father and son Gregory and Travis McMichael, both white, and was fatally shot after being stopped by the pair. The McMichaels have said that Arbery resembled a description of a suspected burglar in the area, and argued that they acted in self-defense. Authorities allowed them to go on their way, saying what they had done was "perfectly legal" and in accordance with Georgia's citizens' arrest law.

Footage tells a different story

The McMichaels were not charged until after footage of the incident taken by a local resident began to spread on social media in May, showing the McMichaels cornering and struggling with the unarmed man. The two have since been charged with aggravated assault and murder, and investigators are currently weighing whether to level federal hate crime charges against them over allegations the attack was racially motivated.

The case was initially handed to Brunswick Circuit District Attorney Jackie Johnson, who enlisted the help of neighboring Waycross Circuit District Attorney George Barnhill, both of whom are now under investigation. It has since emerged that Gregory McMichael was a former local police officer who had also worked for the district attorney's office for 20 years.

USA | Ermordung Ahmaud Arbery | Protest
Protesters have called for justice for Ahmaud ArberyImage: Getty Images/S. Rayford

Prosecutor denies wrongdoing

Johnson defended her office's conduct in a statement to the Associated Press, saying: ''I'm confident an investigation is going to show my office did what it was supposed to and there was no wrongdoing on our part."

"The police represented it as a burglary case with a self-defense issue," Johnson said. Police were seeking "guidance on how to proceed and whether to make an arrest. Our office could not advise or assist them because of our obvious conflict.''

She said that is why she handed the case to Barnhill, to avoid any conflict as the elder McMichael was a former employee of her office. 

Attorney General Carr has said that Barnhill then advised the police not to make an arrest, saying that the incident was legal under Georgia law. He also calls Arbery a "criminal" and "burglary suspect," in his official report, despite a lack of any evidence that the jogger was involved in a local series of break-ins.

Police have said there were no police reports filed about the the alleged break-ins.

Shortly after filing the report, Barnhill recused himself from the case. Carr has replaced him with Cobb County District Attorney Joyette M. Holmes, who is based in Atlanta.

es/stb (AP, dpa)

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