By J. Scott Trubey | Atlanta Journal-Constitution | May 16, 2020
Hundreds gathered for a rally and march in Brunswick Saturday and called for the resignations of two South Georgia district attorneys, alleging the prosecutors committed misconduct in their handling of the investigation into the killing of Ahmaud Arbery.
“We came to tell Jackie Johnson your time is up,” said Derrick Boazman, a former Atlanta City Councilman who spoke at the rally after joining in a caravan from Atlanta to Brunswick Saturday morning. Civil rights leaders, pastors, relatives of Arbery and other supporters gathered at the Glynn County Courthouse and demanded the resignations of Johnson, the Glynn district attorney, and George Barnhill, the DA in the Waycross circuit.
“Their mishandling of the case, the fact they would make a public statement when they recused themselves … just reeks with prosecutorial misconduct,” said Mawuli Davis, an organizer for the caravan and an attorney with the Davis Bozeman law firm. “And it should not be allowed for them to continue to serve the citizens. The citizens of Georgia deserve better.”
Both DAs have denied any wrongdoing in how they handled the investigation into the Feb. 23 shooting. Johnson said she recused herself from the case because one of the alleged assailants, Gregory McMichael, once worked as an investigator in her office, and Barnhill stepped in.
Barnhill declined to prosecute and ultimately stepped down.
But the case took a sharp turn when the GBI began investigating the case earlier this month.
The GBI arrested McMichael, 64, and his son, Travis McMichael, 34, May 7 after reviewing evidence including a 36-second video that captured the shooting and, upon its public release, sparked national outrage.
Both men were charged with felony homicide and aggravated assault and have been denied bond.
Arbery’s family has said he was out for a jog when the McMichaels confronted him. Protests and runs in solidarity with Arbery’s family have sprung up across the country since the video of the shooting became public.
Glynn County commissioners Peter Murphy and Allen Booker have said Johnson’s office told police not to make any arrests immediately after the shooting, which she has disputed in statements and a recent radio interview.
In an early April letter to Glynn police, Barnhill wrote that the McMichaels were legally carrying weapons and were entitled to pursue and detain Arbery under the law that allows for citizen’s arrest.
The McMichaels said they suspected Arbery of burglaries and that he became violent when confronted, none of which has been substantiated.
In his letter, Barnhill said he believed Arbery had “mental health issues,” without providing medical evidence.
A national association of district attorneys condemned Barnhill’s actions, saying, “No prosecutor should inject his or her opinion into a pending case to the point where she or he becomes a potential witness and risks compromising the just outcome of a case.”
John Perry, president of the Brunswick chapter of the NAACP, said the Arbery killing spurred an awakening.
“Justice is saying we need to clean up the house of Glynn County,” he said. “That we have to have a law enforcement and a system that will do right by all people.”
The rally turned into a march to a nearby police station after a relative of Arbery’s said the police share some responsibility for Arbery’s death.
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported Friday that Gregory McMichael had offered his help to police to watch for unwanted visits to a home under construction in the Satilla Shores neighborhood where Arbery was shot.
A Glynn police officer, Robert Rash, texted McMichael’s phone number to a property owner in the neighborhood and said McMichael had offered assistance if anyone else came onto the construction site.
Saturday’s demonstration started with a caravan of Arbery supporters that left a southwest Atlanta church about 8:30 a.m. for Brunswick, where the crowd joined hundreds more on the coast.
Members of the caravan posted signs in their cars reading, “Justice for Ahmaud” and “Riding for Maud!!”
The Rev. Gerald L. Durley, a member of the Concerned Black Clergy of Metropolitan Atlanta and a longtime civil rights leader, said members of the caravan have taken up the torch of predecessors, including the late Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.
“You are going to Brunswick today to light up that place and get rid of those DAs and don’t feel no way tired,” Durley said.
Andrea Young, executive director of ACLU of Georgia, said her organization is calling for an end to citizen’s arrest laws.
“These laws let people think they can be vigilantes and take the law into their own hands,” she said.
Staff writer Brad Schrade contributed to this report.