A grand jury convened by Georgia Attorney General Chris Carr began proceedings Monday morning at the Glynn County Courthouse, Sheriff Neal Jump confirmed.
According to news outlets naming anonymous sources, the grand jury is focusing on former Brunswick Judicial Circuit District Attorney Jackie Johnson and her actions in the aftermath of the shooting death of Ahmaud Arbery on Feb. 23, 2020.
Johnson lost the November election to new DA Keith Higgins due in large part to public ire over her handling of the case.
The incident placed Glynn County in the national spotlight after a video of the shooting went viral online in May 2020.
Arbery, 25, was Black. The three men accused of his murder are White.
Jump confirmed that a grand jury convened at 9 a.m. at the courthouse at the behest of Carr, but could not comment on the focus of the jury. The sheriff's office is responsible for security at the courthouse.
“I can confirm that there is a meeting with a called grand jury going on, and it was called by the AG’s office,” Jump told The News. “What it concerns, I can’t say.”
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution cited an unnamed source in an article Sunday stating that Carr called the grand jury to focus on Johnson’s actions in the Arbery case. The Attorney General’s office would not confirm whether such a proceeding is taking place.
“We’re not able to confirm or deny the existence of grand jury proceedings,” Georgia AG spokeswoman Katie Byrd said Monday.
Last May, Carr called on the U.S. Attorney General’s Office to investigate the actions of Johnson and another prosecutor just days after the Georgia Bureau of Investigation arrested a former Brunswick DA investigator and his son on murder charges in Arbery’s death.
When he assigned the case to Waycross DA George E. Barnhill, Carr said he was unaware that Johnson had already asked Barnhill to consult with the Glynn County Police Department about the shooting. Carr said he also was unaware Johnson and Barnhill had discussed the case.
Arbery, 25, was shot to death by Travis McMichael on a street in Satilla Shores after being pursued by McMichael and his father, Gregory McMichael. Gregory McMichael worked as an investigator for the Brunswick DA’s office for more than 20 years and was a county police officer for seven years before that. He retired from the DA’s office in May 2019.
Johnson recused herself the afternoon of the shooting because of Gregory McMichael’s ties to her office. She contacted Barnhill that same day and asked him to offer guidance to the county police department.
Barnhill met with police the next day. It was later learned he advised police that the shooting appeared to be a case of self-defense.
Johnson contacted Carr by email on Feb. 27 citing her conflict of interest and requesting a new DA be assigned. Carr assigned the case to Barnhill that same day.
Carr said last year that he was unaware the two had already communicated with each other about the case when he assigned it to Barnhill..
Barnhill recused himself on April 7 after receiving objections from Arbery’s family. Barnhill’s son, George F. Barnhill, was an attorney with the Brunswick DA’s office at the time. The younger Barnhill and Gregory McMichael also had worked together years earlier on a case involving charges against Arbery.
Carr said last year that Barnhill did not mention these potential conflicts or that he had already offered the police department “an initial opinion.”
“At the time of the request by the Brunswick Circuit District Attorney and acceptance by the Waycross Circuit District Attorney, neither revealed to the Office of the Attorney General that the Waycross Circuit District Attorney had already taken a role in the case in reviewing evidence and advising the Glynn County Police Department regarding whether to make arrests in the case,” Carr said in a statement last year.
Carr then assigned the case to prosecutor Tom Durden, the DA for the Atlantic Judicial Circuit in Hinesville. Durden announced plans in early May to ask a Glynn County Grand jury to consider criminal charges against the McMichaels.
The case was transferred later in May to the Cobb County DA, where it remains.
County police, who originally responded to the shooting death, made no arrests. The GBI took over the investigation May 5 and arrested the McMichaels two days later.
A video leaked to social media that same day showed Travis McMichael shooting the unarmed Arbery three times at close range as the two men struggled for possession of McMichael’s 12-gauge shotgun.
On May 21, GBI agents arrested William “Roddie” Bryan, the man who took the video from his cell phone after joining the chase when he saw Arbery run past his home with the McMichaels in pursuit in a pickup truck.
All three men have remained in jail without bond since their arrest.