Prosecutor Who Didn’t Charge Ahmaud Arbery’s Killers Now Faces Prison Time

Ex-prosecutor Jackie Johnson is accused of “showing favor and affection to Gregory McMichael," one of the men involved in Ahmaud Arbery’s death.
September 3, 2021, 3:29pm
This photo combo of images taken Thursday, May 7, 2020, and provided by the Glynn County Detention Center, in Georgia, show Gregory McMichael, left, and his son Travis McMichael. The two have been charged with murder in the February shooting death of Ahma
This photo combo of images taken Thursday, May 7, 2020, and provided by the Glynn County Detention Center, in Georgia, show Gregory McMichael, left, and his son Travis McMichael. The two have been charged with murder in the February shooting death of Ahmaud Arbery, whom they had pursued in a truck after spotting him running in their neighborhood. (Glynn County Detention Center via AP)

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A grand jury had decided that the former Georgia prosecutor who initially decided not to press charges in Ahmaud Arbery’s death last year used her power to protect the two men involved and should now face charges of her own.

Georgia Attorney General Chris Carr announced Thursday afternoon that former Glynn County District Attorney Jackie Johnson has been indicted on charges of obstructing a law enforcement officer and for violating the oath of a public officer. She could now spend 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,” Carr said in a statement Thursday. “While an indictment was returned today, our file is not closed, and we will continue to investigate in order to pursue justice.”

The decision follows a state investigation into the four days that followed the fatal shooting of 25-year-old Ahmaud Arbery, during which Johnson’s office failed to charge anyone involved in the shooting. Johnson instead chose to recuse herself from the case, citing that one of the men involved in the shooting of  Arbery, Gregory McMichael, once worked as an investigator for her office. It’s been previously reported that McMichael even called Johnson shortly after the shooting.

“My son and I been involved in a shooting and I need some advice right away,” McMichael said in a voicemail. “Please call me as soon as you possibly can.”

Due to the conflict of interest, Johnson handed over the case to District Attorney George Barnhill, but never disclosed that she’d previously sought advice from him in the case, according to the indictment.

For the charge of violating her oath of office, Johnson is accused of “showing favor and affection to Gregory McMichael” during her investigation into Arbery’s death and failing to treat the Arbery family “fairly and with dignity,” according to indictment documents released to the public Thursday. The crime is punishable by up to five years in prison.

On the obstruction charge, Johnson is accused of preventing two Glynn County police officers from arresting Travis McMichael. This is punishable by up to 12 months in prison.

In February 2020, Arbery was jogging through his neighborhood in Brunswick, Georgia, when he stopped to look at a construction site along his path. Gregory and Travis McMichael spotted the Black man and suspected he was involved in a string of burglaries in the area. Hoping to carry out a so-called “citizen’s arrest, the two men, joined by their neighbor William Bryan, tailed Arbery in their truck.

Armed with a pistol and a shotgun, the McMichaels confronted Arbery by blocking his path with their vehicle. After an exchange of words, a scuffle over the shotgun Travis was holding followed. A total of three shots were fired, killing Arbery.

Though Arbery’s death nearly went unpunished, footage of his death captured by Bryan, caught the attention of outraged activists. In May 2020, after the footage had gone viral and demands for justice reached an all-time high, Gov. Brain Kemp asked the Georgia Bureau of Investigation to take over the case from Barnhill. In less than two days, the state agency would take the McMichaels into custody and charge them with murder.

Barnhill, who had recused himself after Arbery’s family discovered his son once worked for Johnson, had determined that the McMichaels actions were legal under the state’s citizen’s arrest laws before dropping the case. Those laws have since been repealed.

Last November, after a decade in office, Johnson failed her re-election bid due in part to her involvement in the Arbery case.