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The Federal Bureau of Investigation is looking into potential misconduct by local Georgia officials in the case of 25-year-old Ahmaud Arbery’s shooting death in February, according to the attorney for Arbery’s family.
Attorney Lee Merritt said in a tweeted statement that Arbery’s parents and their lawyers met with U.S. Attorney Bobby Christine last Thursday, and that Christine said his office is investigating “why it took so long to arrest the individuals responsible for Mr. Arbery’s death.”
Christine’s office declined to confirm to the AP whether the meeting had happened, citing policy on not discussing active investigations.
Arbery was shot to death with a shotgun by 34-year-old Travis McMichael on February 25, after McMichael and his father, former law enforcement official George McMichael, chased him in their truck while he was out jogging. George McMichael later claimed to police that there had been several recent break-ins in the area and that Arbery had been caught on surveillance video. After months passed without any arrests in the case, a video of the shooting went viral earlier this month, and soon after, the McMichaels were arrested by the Georgia Bureau of Investigation.
Merritt also told TMZ.com that the FBI was investigating potential “criminal and civil” violations by two prosecutors previously involved with the case, George Barnhill and Jackie Johnson, who recused themselves because McMichael used to work in the office. A Glynn County commissioner alleged earlier this month that Johnson, the district attorney for the area, had blocked arrests of the McMichaels in the case before recusing herself, a charge she has denied.
Barnhill also recused himself, but wrote in a letter in early April that the McMichaels had followed the state’s “citizen’s arrest” law and said there was “insufficient probable cause” to even issue warrants for their arrests.
“This is a vast conspiracy at this point,” Merritt said.
In a statement on Twitter on Monday night, Merritt and other lawyers for the family said of last week’s meeting with Christine that they were “feeling satisfied that the DOJ would do their part to fully investigate all players involved in this murder and that they would hold those responsible accountable."
A third man, 50-year-old William Bryan, was arrested last week for felony murder and criminal attempt to commit false imprisonment. Merritt said the FBI was involved in Bryan’s arrest. Bryan shot the cell phone footage of the last minutes of Arbery’s life, which was later leaked by George McMichael.
The Department of Justice said earlier this month that it was considering federal hate crime charges in the case. Georgia is one of just four states that doesn’t have a hate crime statute on the books.
“This case makes it clear that all black citizens in south Georgia aren’t getting the same protection under the law,” Merritt said. “Because if you shoot anybody in the street in broad daylight, just in general, you expect an arrest. There were no arrests made.”
Cover: Lee Merritt, left, and Chris Stewart, attorneys for the mother of Ahmaud Arbery, are seen at a news conference on Wednesday, May 19, 2020, in East Point, Georgia. The attorneys appeared and spoke at a news conference held by the Atlanta branch of the NAACP. (AP Photo/Ron Harris)