Prosecutor Indicted For Covering Up Ahmaud Arbery Killing. FINALLY.
Yesterday Georgia's attorney general announced the indictment of former prosecutor Jackie Johnson for official misconduct in the killing of Ahmaud Arbery.
"Our office is committed to ensuring those who are entrusted to serve are carrying out their duties ethically and honestly," Attorney General Chris Carr said, as if it was normal for prosecutors to charge one of their own for sweeping the murder of a Black man under the rug — or for any bad conduct at all, no matter how reprehensible.
It's not at all normal, which is why it took a national outcry over Johnson's egregiously inappropriate behavior to force the Georgia Bureau of Investigations to swing into action.
All credit goes to Arbery's family for having the courage to jump up and down screaming and demanding justice for their son, who was murdered when he was out jogging by state-sanctioned vigilantes who suspected him of burglary and attempted to make a citizens' arrest. In a wrongful death suit filed in February, the family described the relationship between prosecutor Jackie Johnson and killers Travis McMichael, Gregory McMichael, and William Bryan:
The effort to cover up what the McMichaels and Bryan had done continued in the Brunswick County District Attorney's office. Defendant DA Jackie Johnson had known Gregory McMichael personally for years when he served as her investigator, and had previously intervened to try to keep him on the police force after he repeatedly failed to complete state-mandated officer training. In the immediate wake of the murder and before recusing herself, Johnson instructed law enforcement not to arrest her former colleague, his son, or Bryan. Upon recusing herself, Johnson handed the case to her colleague in neighboring Ware County, Defendant George Barnhill, knowing, but not disclosing, that he too had a personal connection with Gregory McMichael. When this connection was discovered, Barnhill, too, was forced to recuse himself, but not before issuing a letter intended to justify the murder of Ahmaud as "perfectly legal," based on a multitude of demonstrably false statements. This included painting Ahmaud as a violent and unstable criminal who had attacked the McMichaels.
Of course, the whole thing was on video, and needless to say that did not happen.
Just moments after the killing, Gregory McMichael left a message for Johnson asking her to call him back ASAP. And while Johnson never returned the call, she made damn sure that the three men weren't immediately charged. Knowing that she'd have to recuse herself because of her relationship with McMichael, Johnson called up her buddy George Barnhill, the district attorney in neighboring Ware County, and asked him to take it over, despite the fact that Barnhill's son worked in Johnson's office with Gregor McMichael, an obvious conflict.
Within a day, Barnhill had "investigated" the case and given the killers a clean bill of health. Then Johnson contacted the state Attorney General's Office and "requested" that they let Barnhill take over, without disclosing Barnhill's conflict or whatever she'd worked out with him to ensure the killers walked away scot free.
All of which sounds pretty bad, right? And yet, despite this appalling misconduct, it took more than a year and a half after Arbery's murder for Johnson to face any consequence at all other than being voted out of office. But at long last a grand jury has returned an indictment charging her with violating her oath of public office and obstruction and hindering a law enforcement officer, charges which carry a maximum cumulative penalty of six years jail time.
None of which will bring Ahmaud Arbery back. A pack of racists, informally deputized and armed by the local police department, hunted down an unarmed Black man out for a jog, hit him with their car, and shot him when he tried to run away. Arresting the district attorney who helped to cover it up is cold comfort to Arbery's family, but it is something.
"Former DA Jackie Johnson....Indicted!!! JusticeForMyBaby!!!!" Arbery's mother Wanda Cooper-Jones wrote on Facebook, while conceding in an interview with the Washington Post that justice was by no means a foregone conclusion here.
"If the family had not pushed it, it would be business as usual," she said.
So let's all give a very brief clap for AG Carr, who did the right thing. After massive public outcry and pressure. In the most clearcut circumstances imaginable. Eventually.
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Liz Dye lives in Baltimore with her wonderful husband and a houseful of teenagers. When she isn't being mad about a thing on the internet, she's hiding in plain sight in the carpool line. She's the one wearing yoga pants glaring at her phone.