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GBI Launches Investigation Into Two Prosecutors Accused of Withholding Conflict of Interest Information In Ahmaud Arbery Case, Black Republican DA Assigned to Case

The Georgia Bureau of Investigation announced it launched a misconduct investigation of two prosecutors who recused themselves from the Ahmaud Arbery case.

Waycross DA George E. Barnhill and Brunswick DA Jackie Johnson are at the center of a probe requested by Georgia Attorney General Chris Carr.

The Georgia Bureau of Investigation will determine if two prosecutors violated standards of professional conduct in the Ahmaud Arbery case. (Photo by Sean Rayford/Getty Images)

“The Attorney General is concerned that the actions of these offices in possibly misrepresenting or failing to disclose information during the process of appointing a conflict prosecutor to investigate the death of Ahmaud Arbery may have constituted unprofessional conduct,” the GBI said in a press release.

Arbery, 25, died on Feb. 23 after he was shot three times during a struggle for a shotgun against Travis McMichael. McMichael and his father George had been following Arbery as he jogged through their Brunswick, Georgia, neighborhood. The duo later claimed he fit the description of a suspected burglar and they wanted to perform a citizen’s arrest.

Travis McMichael (left) and George McMichael (right) were arrested for the February shooting death of Ahmaud Arbery on May 7. (Photo: Glynn Country Police Department)

The results of an autopsy were released on Tuesday, reported NBC News. The coroner determined the two shots to Arbery’s chest caused his death. A third blast grazed his one of his wrists.

Johnson sent the office of the attorney general a letter on Feb. 27 announcing that she’s recusing herself because George McMichael used to work for her office and recommended another prosecutor take the case. Not long afterward, the attorney general’s office learned that Johnson had reached out to Barnhill to take the case, which he accepted, but he also held at least one conflict of interest: His son works as an attorney for Johnson’s office, and the elder McMichael had assisted the younger Barnhill with an earlier case involving Arbery. Despite this conflict, Barnhill kept the case for weeks after he and Johnson learned of it, the attorney general’s office said to the GBI.

“Not long after Mr. Barnhill’s appointment, he and Ms. Johnson learned that Mr. Barnhill’s son, an assistant district attorney in Ms. Johnson’s office, had worked with Mr. McMichael on a prosecution involving Mr. Arbery,” the GBI said in a press release. “Mr. Barnhill, however, held onto the case for several more weeks after making this discovery.”

In Barnhill’s April 7 letter to the attorney general’s office announcing his own recusal, he failed to disclose that he had been involved in the case prior to his appointment. On Feb. 24, the day after Arbery was killed. Barnhill, who is not a Glynn County official, told the Glynn County Police Department “that he did not see grounds for the arrest of any of the individuals involved in Mr. Arbery’s death,” the GBI’s release said. Barnhill would later follow up that guidance with a written opinion.

“He additionally stated his opinion to the Glynn County Police Department in writing that there was insufficient probable cause to make any arrests in the case and that he would be asking the Attorney General to appoint another prosecutor,” the release continued.

After getting Barnhill’s recusal letter, the attorney general’s office appointed Atlantic Judicial Circuit District Attorney Tom Durden to take over the case on April 13. This week the state would appoint another prosecutor, by now the fourth DA whose hands have touched the case.

On Monday Carr assigned Cobb County District Attorney Joyette Holmes to the case. Holmes, a Republican, is the county’s first Black district attorney.

“District Attorney Holmes is a respected attorney with experience, both as a lawyer and a judge and the Cobb County District Attorney’s office has the resources, personnel and experience to lead this prosecution and ensure justice is done,” Carr said in a statement.

Holmes said her “call to serve will not be taken lightly.”

Ahmaud Arbery
Ahmaud Arbery, 25, was gunned down and killed by two white men in a South Georgia neighborhood on Feb. 23. Investigation into the incident is ongoing. (Source: I Run With Maud/Facebook)

The McMichaels were not arrested until May 7, two days after a video of the shooting was leaked online. William Roddie Bryan, the man who recorded the video, is also under investigation. Bryan claims he had nothing to do with the incident and has received death threats since the video leaked. The video went viral after Bryan gave it to attorney Alan Tucker, who sent it to a local radio station.

“I had nothing to do with it. I’m trying to get my life back to normal, and it’s been smeared for the last week,” Bryan told CBS47. “I was told I was a witness and I’m not sure what I am, other than receiving a bunch of threats.”

Kevin Gough, Bryan’s attorney, would not allow his client to explain why he was on the scene.

“My client was responding to what he saw, which was someone in the community he didn’t know being followed by a vehicle he recognized,” Gough said. “Without going into details about the level of crime in this community in this subdivision, I think most people in this subdivision were aware that there were issues.”

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