The district attorney in Georgia who initially handled the investigation of the February 2020 shooting death of Ahmaud Arbery was charged on Thursday for allegedly showing favor to one of Arbery’s accused killers and obstructing the case.
Former Brunswick District Attorney Jacquelyn Lee Johnson was charged with violating her oath as a public officer and obstruction of a police officer, according to a statement by the Georgia Attorney General’s office.
Johnson did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
On Feb. 23, 2020, Arbery, a 25-year-old unarmed Black man in Brunswick, was pursued by Travis McMichael, his father Greg McMichael, and William “Roddie” Bryan and shot and killed. The indictment alleges that on the day of the shooting, Johnson allegedly showed “favor and affection” to Greg McMichael during the subsequent investigation into Arbery’s death.
It also alleges she “knowingly and willfully” stopped two officers with the Glynn County Police Department from arresting McMichael after the shooting.
The Glynn County Police Department did not immediately reply to a request for comment.
Greg McMichael had worked as an investigator in Johnson’s office before the shooting. For two months after the shooting the McMichaels and Bryan remained free until the Georgia Bureau of Investigation took over the case and charged all three with murder in May 2020.
Thursday’s indictment against Johnson also alleges that after Arbery’s death, she sought the assistance of Waycross District Attorney George Barnhill but failed to disclose this assistance when she recused herself from Arbery’s case and recommended Barnhill for the job.
Barnhill did not immediately reply to a request for comment.
After taking over the case from Johnson days after the shooting of Arbery, Barnhill recused himself in April 2020. According to WGXA, Barnhill learned that his son, a prosecutor, had handled a prior case involving Arbery in which Greg McMichael served as an investigator.
If convicted of the charges, Johnson faces up to six years in prison.
“Our office is committed to ensuring those who are entrusted to serve are carrying out their duties ethically and honestly,” said Attorney General Chris Carr in a statement. “We thank the Georgia Bureau of Investigation and the Glynn County Grand Jury for their hard work. While an indictment was returned today, our file is not closed, and we will continue to investigate in order to pursue justice.”
The charges come down after the family of Arbery filed a federal civil rights lawsuit in February alleging that Johnson personally knew McMichael and intervened to stop officers from arresting him, his son Travis McMichael, and Bryant after Arbery’s death.
“Prosecutors must be held accountable when they interfere with investigations in order to protect friends and law enforcement,” S. Lee Merritt, an attorney representing Arbery’s mother in the federal lawsuit, wrote on Twitter in response to the indictment.
Merritt added that he will continue to pursue charges against Barnhill who he claimed took the case from Johnson and “immediately went to work attacking the character” of Arbery.
In November 2020, Johnson, after facing intense scrutiny over her handling of the Arbery shooting, was voted out of office.