ATLANTA — Local law enforcers are now being investigated in the shooting of a black man who was chased down by two white men in Georgia.
Georgia Attorney General Chris Carr asked the Georgia Bureau of Investigation and federal authorities to probe how local prosecutors handled the killing of Ahmaud Arbery. It took more than two months and the release of a video of the shooting before Gregory and Travis McMichael were charged with murder and jailed.
“Unfortunately, many questions and concerns have arisen regarding, among other things, the communications between and actions taken by the District Attorneys of the Brunswick and Waycross Circuits. As a result, we have requested the GBI to review in order to determine whether the process was undermined in any way,” Carr said in a statement Tuesday.
Carr also appointed a black district attorney from suburban Atlanta on Monday to take over, making her the fourth prosecutor in charge of a case that’s prompted a national outcry over suspicions that race played a role in delaying arrests.
Justice Department spokeswoman Kerri Kupec said federal prosecutors also are considering whether hate crimes charges are warranted, and that Carr has been asked to “forward to federal authorities any information that he has.”
Cobb County District Attorney Joyette M. Holmes replaces prosecutor Tom Durden, who Carr said asked to be replaced by a prosecutor with a large staff as “this case has grown in size and magnitude.”
Holmes is based in metro Atlanta, far from the coastal Georgia community in Glynn County where the shooting happened, and is “a respected attorney with experience, both as a lawyer and a judge,” said Carr, a Republican.
Holmes served four years a magistrate judge before Gov. Brian Kemp appointed her last July to succeed GBI Director Vic Reynolds as district attorney. The Georgia Prosecuting Attorneys Council said she’s one of only seven black district attorneys in the state.
An attorney for Arbery’s father, Marcus Arbery, asked Holmes to “be zealous in her search for justice.”
“In order for justice to be carried out both effectively and appropriately in the murder of Ahmaud Arbery, it is imperative that the special prosecutor has no affiliation with the Southeast Georgia legal or law enforcement communities,” attorney Benjamin Crump said in a statement.
The McMichaels told police they chased Arbrey because they believed he matched the appearance of a burglary suspect caught on surveillance video in their subdivision just outside Brunswick, a working-class port city of about 16,000 that also serves as a gateway to island beach resorts.
Arbery was hit by three shotgun blasts, according to an autopsy report released by the GBI; one shot grazed his right wrist, and the other two struck him in the chest. Blood tests for various drugs and alcohol all came back negative.
Many have expressed frustration with the investigation, suggesting the defendants’ race and law enforcement ties protected them until the video was shared and outrage grew. Gregory McMichael is a former Glynn County police officer who worked 20 years as district attorney’s investigator before retiring last year.
Gregory McMichael, 64, and Travis McMichael, 34, have been jailed since Thursday. Neither man had lawyers at their first court appearances on Friday, done by video link from the Glynn County jail. With courts largely closed because of the coronavirus, a grand jury can’t be called to hear the case until mid-June.
Glynn County District Attorney Jackie Johnson recused herself because the elder McMichael had worked under her. District Attorney George Barnhill of the neighboring Waycross Judicial Circuit was brought in, but stepped aside about a month later because his son works for Johnson as an assistant prosecutor. Durden then got the case, but it didn’t appear to advance until the emergence of the video.
Carr’s letter to the GBI accuses the first two prosecutors of leaving his office was in the dark about their actions. “Unknown and undisclosed to the Attorney General,” it says, Barnhill told Glynn County Police that he didn’t see grounds for any arrests.
The phone at Barnhill’s office in Waycross rang unanswered Tuesday.
President Donald Trump said Monday he’s following the case “very closely” and that Arbery “looks like a wonderful young guy.”
“Certainly the video, it was a terrible looking video to me,” Trump said. “But you have a lot of people looking at it and hopefully an answer’s going to be arrived at very quickly.”
Wanda Cooper Jones has said she thinks her son was simply jogging in the neighborhood before he was killed.
The leaked video shows a black man running at a jogging pace. A truck is stopped in the road ahead of him, with one white man standing in the pickup’s bed with a handgun, and another beside the open driver’s side door with what appears to be a shotgun or rifle. The running man attempts to pass the pickup on the passenger side, moving briefly out of view. A gunshot sounds, and the video shows the runner grappling with the gunman in the street. A second shot can be heard, and the running man can be seen punching the other man. A third shot is fired at point-blank range. The running man staggers a few feet and falls face down.
A man who says he recorded the video on his phone said he’s received death threats. William R. Bryan, identified as a witness in the police report, has not been charged.
“I had nothing to do with it,” Bryan told WJAX-TV in an interview. “I was told I was a witness and I’m not sure what I am, other than receiving a bunch of threats.”