A grand jury indicted a former Georgia prosecutor on Thursday, Sept. 2, on misconduct charges, finding that she used her position to protect the men charged in 25-year-old Ahmaud Arbery’s death.
The Glynn County grand jury indicted former Brunswick Judicial Circuit District Attorney Jackie Johnson on a felony count of violating her oath of office and on a misdemeanor count of hindering a law enforcement officer, the Associated Press reported.
The indictment comes as the men charged in Arbery’s death, father and son Gregory and Travis McMichael, and their neighbor, William “Roddie” Bryan, are set to go to trial on charges of malice murder, felony murder and criminal attempt to commit false imprisonment. Jury selection begins on Oct. 18.
The indictment is the result of an investigation requested last year by Georgia Attorney General Chris Carr into how local authorities handled Arbery’s death. Although Arbery was killed in February 2020 while running in his mother’s Satilla Shores neighborhood, no one was arrested in connection with his death until May, after video footage of the slaying surfaced online.
The Georgia Bureau of Investigation promptly took over the case and found probable cause to arrest the McMichaels within 36 hours of when the footage was posted on May 5.
Travis McMichael fatally shot Arbery as he ran through the Georgia neighborhood on Feb. 23, 2020. The McMichaels spotted Arbery running, chased him down and cut off his path with a truck before he was killed. Bryan filmed and joined in on the chase.
Defense attorneys contend none of the men committed a crime, and say Bryan and the McMichaels thought Arbery had committed a burglary after he was previously captured on surveillance footage entering a home under construction. Travis McMichael shot Arbery out of fear for his life as the two struggled over the shotgun, the attorneys say.
On Feb. 27, just days after Arbery’s death, Johnson wrote a letter recusing herself from the investigation, citing a conflict of interest.
Gregory McMichael was a retired investigator with the Brunswick District Attorney’s Office and had previously served as a Glynn County police officer. Johnson requested that Carr assign the case to a different office.
Evidence introduced during pretrial hearings shows that McMichael called Johnson and left her a message after the shooting occurred.
“Jackie, this is Greg,” he said, a recording of the call shows. “Could you call me as soon as you possibly can? My son and I have been involved in a shooting and I need some advice right away.”
Records reportedly don’t show that Johnson called McMichael back. But according to the indictment, Johnson showed “favor and affection” to McMichael and interfered with police officers at the scene by “directing that Travis McMichael should not be placed under arrest.”
Johnson has previously denied wrongdoing in her handling of the case, and said she did the right thing by recusing herself.
“I’m confident that when the truth finally comes out on that, people will understand our office did what it had to under the circumstances,” Johnson told The Associated Press in November.
After Johnson recused herself from the case, it was referred to Waycross District Attorney George E. Barnhill. However, after the shooting, Johnson had called Barnhill to discuss questions from police about how the shooting should be handled, although Carr said he was not made aware of that fact before handing the case over to Barnhill.
According to the indictment, Johnson failed “to treat Ahmaud Arbery and his family fairly and with dignity” when she did not disclose that she had sought assistance from another district attorney before recommending he take the case.
Barnhill had already advised police “that he did not see grounds for the arrest of any of the individuals involved in Mr. Arbery’s death,” before being assigned to the case. Barnhill also subsequently recused himself from the case in April. “Under Georgia Law this is perfectly legal,” Barnhill wrote.
“Our office is committed to ensuring those who are entrusted to serve are carrying out their duties ethically and honestly,” Carr said in a statement following the indictment. He is the fourth prosecutor to investigate the case after a third prosecutor was removed because he was not equipped to handle the matter from a smaller office.
Johnson was voted out of office last year after facing backlash over her handling of the investigation into Arbery’s death.