The Glynn County Board of Commissioners issued a statement Saturday on behalf of the county in response to a press release issued late Friday night in which Brunswick Judicial Circuit District Attorney Jackie Johnson placed blame on the Glynn County Police Department for the breakdowns in the Ahmaud Arbery case.
Johnson has come under fire in recent days after a leaked video showing the moments leading up to the February 23rd fatal shooting of Amaud Arbery vent viral. A heightened level of media coverage has highlighted the lag time between Johnson’s recusal from the case – due to the fact that Greg McMichael was employed by her office as an investigator – and the Glynn County Police Department’s supposed desire to immediately arrest both Travis and Greg McMichael in the aftermath of the shooting.
But Friday evening, Johnson placed blame on the police department and denied claims by two Glynn County Commissioners that anyone in her office told investigators not to make an arrest of the McMichaels – a statement in contradiction to at least three Glynn County Police Department employees privy to the conversation.
Johnson’s statement is below:
“Commissioners Murphy and Booker have chosen to make baseless and false accusations against District Attorney Jackie Johnson in an attempt to make excuses and ignore the problems at the Glynn County Police Department, for which they are ultimately responsible. Acting Police Chief Jay Wiggins has indicated that it was a mistake that then Police Chief John Powell did not immediately call in the Georgia Bureau of Investigation to investigate the case.
As evidenced by the events of this week, the GBI was able to investigate, make a probable cause determination, and make arrests within two days of receiving the case. That is what a law enforcement agency does, and if the Glynn County Police Department is unable to make a probable cause determination on its own, why do we have a Police Department?
Under Georgia law, the District Attorney has no arrest powers. Rather it is the duty and obligation of the law enforcement officer to determine probable cause for arrest. The District Attorney is available to advise on the law. Our District Attorney’s office’s willingness to be available to advise law enforcement officers on matters of law is now being used by the Glynn County Police Department as an excuse to pass the buck and fail to act.
When two Assistant District Attorneys were contacted by the Glynn County Police Department on February 23, 2020, they immediately cited a conflict of interest and stated our office could not be involved. Our office offered to facilitate getting assistance from another District Attorney’s office.
At no time on February 23, 2020, did District Attorney Jackie Johnson have any conversation with any Glynn County police officer about this case. Further, no Assistant District Attorney in the office directed any Glynn County police officer not to make an arrest.
While our office did assist in putting the Glynn County Police Department in contact with the District Attorney in the Waycross Circuit, we did not direct his actions or appoint him to the case. Rather, that was done by the Attorney General’s Office of the State of Georgia. Our office made the Attorney General aware of our conflict and recusal by letter on February 25, 2020.”
Around noon on Saturday, Glynn County issued its own statement with a more comprehensive timeline of the events:
On Sunday, February 23, 2020, two calls were received at the Glynn-Brunswick 911 Center between 1:08pm and 1:15pm involving activity that was reported as suspicious in the Satilla Shores neighborhood located off US-17 in Glynn County. The Glynn County Police Department responded to the calls. Gun shots were heard by the responding officer upon arrival to the Satilla Shores neighborhood. Shortly thereafter, the location of the gun shots was identified, and an ambulance was called. The Glynn County Police Department immediately began investigative activities. Detectives arrived on the scene at approximately 1:45pm.
Travis McMichael and Greg McMichael were brought to Glynn County Police Headquarters for questioning at approximately 3:30pm on February 23rd. Glynn County Police Officers sought the legal advice of the Brunswick District Attorney’s Office in reference to possible charges. At that point, the DA’s office became involved in the investigation. The DA’s office advised that there needed to be further follow up and the detectives would be contacted the following day by the DA from the Waycross Judicial Circuit. The McMichaels were deemed not to be flight risks and officers were advised by the DA’s office that no arrests were necessary at the time. Detectives met with DA George Barnhill, Sr. of the Waycross Judicial Circuit the following day and reviewed their findings with him. DA Barnhill, Sr. advised detectives before noon on February, 24th that the act was justifiable homicide and for detectives to continue their investigation and provide him with lab reports and any additional pertinent information. The autopsy results were received by the Glynn County Police Department on April 1st and immediately forwarded to DA Barnhill, Sr.
Given the familial relationship of DA George Barnhill, Sr. and an Assistant District Attorney in the Brunswick District Attorney’s Office, the family of Ahmaud Arbery requested that DA Barnhill, Sr. be removed from the case. At this point, DA Barnhill, Sr. recused himself from the case and contacted the Georgia Attorney General’s office to seek assistance in finding another DA to handle the further “evaluation for prosecution,” as he stated in his April 3rd letter to Glynn County Police Captain Tom Jump. In this letter, DA Barnhill, Sr. notes, “I appreciate there is immediate pressure on your department as to the issue of “arrest.”” DA Barnhill, Sr.’s letter makes five points regarding the case and concludes that there was insufficient probable cause to issue arrest warrants at that time. In consultation with the Georgia Attorney General’s office, the case was transferred to DA Tom Durden’s Office of the Atlantic Judicial Circuit.
When the Glynn County Police Department had jurisdiction over the case, it was ultimately decided not to seek out the Georgia Bureau of Investigation (GBI) to review the case given that none of the officers involved in the case were employed with the Police Department, from 1982 to 1989, when Greg McMichael was employed by the department and the officers involved in the case had little to no contact with Mr. McMichael when he was employed by the Brunswick District Attorney’s Office.
From the beginning, the Glynn County Police Department has sought justice in this case. Glynn County followed the direction of DA Barnhill, Sr., and officers were advised not to publicly release information in reference to the case that could impact future prosecution.
In the press conference held by the GBI following the arrest of the McMichaels, it was stated that the Glynn County Police Department had conducted a thorough and good investigation into the case. The Police Department stands ready to further assist the GBI and DA Tom Durden into the investigation and court proceedings that will follow. The Police Department has continued to be advised not to release any information regarding the case other than to law enforcement and judicial agencies as we await the answers that many in the community and the nation are seeking in this case.
Glynn County Commission Chairman Mike Browning stated on Thursday, May 7th:
“Our hearts go out to the family of Ahmaud Arbery for the tragic loss they have experienced. This has impacted them more than we can ever comprehend. This heavy issue has touched so many of us both locally and nationally and caused us to pause and think deeply about this family and our own families. We have to believe that the justice system will do what it is designed to do and provide answers to the many unanswered questions. It is in the hands of the proper authorities and we stand by ready to support Tom Durden, the District Attorney for the Atlantic Judicial Circuit and the Georgia Bureau of Investigation as they conduct investigations into this case.
Until we get answers to the many unanswered questions, I am hopeful that we can come together as a community to deal with this situation with peace and brotherhood, rather than hate and violence which can only make a terrible situation worse. Again, we ask prayers for this family and this community as a whole as this case moves its way through the justice system.”
Both Travis and Greg McMichael were arrested by the GBI on Thursday.