Glynn County Commissioner Peter Murphy said Friday that District Attorney Jackie Johnson stopped Glynn County Police officers from arresting Gregory McMichael and his adult son Travis after they shot and killed Ahmaud Arbery, but Johnson’s office denies the claims.
Immediately following the shooting, Murphy said county police investigators called Johnson’s office to ask for guidance on how to deal with the situation.
“The police were told unequivocally there were no arrests to be made,” Murphy said.
Due to a conflict of interest over Gregory McMichael’s past work as an investigator in the Glynn County DA’s office, Johnson then recused herself.
Rather than going through the state attorney general’s office to hand off the case, Murphy said Johnson went straight to Ware County District Attorney George Barnhill. He decided within 24 hours not to press charges, Murphy said.
“Within 24 hours, having reviewed the police reports, but also having reviewed the videotape we’ve all seen, he told the police in a meeting that no charges were to be filed,” Murphy said.
“There’s more politics behind the scenes at work here to oust (Glynn County Police Chief John Powell) and make no one else responsible.”
Barnhill later stepped down at the request of Arbery’s family, who noted that Barnhill’s son worked as an attorney for DA Johnson.
Georgia Attorney General Chris Carr assigned the case to Liberty County District Attorney Tom Durden, who called in the Georgia Bureau of Investigation and recommended a grand jury decide whether to press charges against the McMichaels. The GBI and Glynn County Sheriff deputies arrested the McMichaels Thursday following an announcement of an official investigation into the case by the GBI, charging each with felony murder and assault.
“What exactly did they expect the police department to do after being told by the district attorneys, the office locally and the one who stepped in from Waycross, that no charges were to be filed?” Murphy said.
He said the situation was similar to the 2010 case of Caroline Small, who was shot and killed by county police officers who were ultimately cleared of wrongdoing.
In a statement released late Friday, the DA’s office refuted Murphy’s allegations, calling them false and saying they were made in an attempt to “make excuses and ignore the problems at the Glynn County Police Department, for which they are ultimately responsible.”
The statement from the DA’s office was not signed. It was emailed to The News by Mark Spaulding, Johnson’s office manager, as a press release.
Johnson’s office put the blame on county police chief John Powell for not calling the GBI in February.
“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,” the statement reads. “That is what a law enforcement agency does. If the Glynn County Police Department is unable to make a probable cause determination on its own, why do we have a police department?”
Further, the DA states it was incumbent on the police officers on the scene to make the arrest, not the district attorney.
Johnson did not have any personal contact with police officers that night, according to the statement.
“When two assistant district attorneys were contacted by the (police) on Feb. 23, they immediately cited a conflict of interest and stated our office could not be involved,” the statement reads.
The district attorney’s office also denied that Johnson bypassed the attorney general in bringing Barnhill into the case.