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Arbery family’s attorney: McMichaels likely to blame Arbery, claim the video proves self-defense

Atlanta Attorney L. Chris Stewart called on the state to investigate local district attorneys in Glynn and Ware Counties for not arresting Travis and Greg McMichael.

ATLANTA — One of the attorneys for Ahmaud Arbery’s family is L. Chris Stewart of Atlanta, and, on Friday, Stewart praised the Georgia Bureau of Investigation for quickly arresting the McMichaels after getting the case this week. 

Stewart also called for an investigation into the reasons local police and prosecutors did not arrest them right after the shooting, in February.

The GBI is focused, now, on whether to arrest a third suspect -- William Bryan, the man who shot the cell phone video -- and trying to determine whether he was possibly involved the McMichaels in events leading up to the shooting death of Arbery.

There is national outrage, focused on Glynn County in coastal Georgia, regarding why local law enforcement looked at the video back in February but did not charge Travis McMichael and his father, Greg McMichael, with murder in the shooting death of Arbery. Yet, critics point out, it took the GBI only a couple of days this week to look at the video and arrest them.

Glynn County Commissioner Dr. J. Peter Murphy told 11Alive News, Friday evening, that the office of Brunswick District Attorney Jackie Johnson instructed Glynn County police on the day of the shooting to stand down.

“After a long discussion, back and forth (between the DA's office and police investigators), you know, about whether the McMichaels were a flight risk or not a flight risk, the decision was made--they were told not to press charges, not to make arrests,” Murphy said, despite what the video shows.

"They didn't seen to understand the horrific nature of this video... I just can't speculate as to what the motivation was (not to make arrests), and, in fact, they're trying to distance themselves from any responsibility in the case. But the fact of the matter is, had the police been told to take these two men into the county jail, they would have done so, there’s no question about it,” Murphy said -- because, he said, police believed, soon after the shooting, that they had probable cause.

District Attorney Jackie Johnson emailed 11Alive News that those are “false accusations… to make excuses and ignore the problems at the Glynn County Police Department.” (Her full statement is below).

"Until the video was released to the public," Murphy said, "nothing was being done by three different DA offices (who had the video all along)2. And there's a lot of finger-pointing, down here, as to who could have done what, when. But that finger-pointing really picked up in earnest when the video was released (to the public) and the public saw what had happened, here.

“It’s just total corruption,” Stewart said. “She told them not to arrest the McMichaels.”

Stewart is calling on the state attorney general to investigate Johnson, who recused herself from the case, and Ware County District Attorney George Barnhill, who also recused himself, saying that Arbery had a criminal record and that, Barnhill’s own son helped prosecute Arbery. 

And Barnhill concluded there was no probable cause to prosecute the McMichaels because the cell phone video proves Arbery was the aggressor that day in February and forced Travis McMichael, who supposedly thought Arbery was a burglar, to shoot Arbery three times in self-defense.

“But we saw that he was hunted,” Stewart said of the video.

“It’s the standard thing that happens in these cases—‘Oh, this guy was a criminal, he was bad, he was a bad guy,’ as if that deserves death. And it had nothing to do with the day of their death.”

So, Stewart said he is beginning to get a glimpse of what the McMichaels’ defense might be: blame Arbery and argue that the video is open to interpretation in the McMichaels' favor, and say that two experienced prosecutors who recused themselves believed the McMichaels.

“The attorney general, the governor, they have to open an investigation into those two district attorneys,” Stewart said. “It would have been swept under the rug. It’s egregious for [Jackie Johnson] to tell police officers, who want to arrest somebody because they found probable cause, don’t arrest them, and then to recuse herself from the case because she admits she’s friends with the shooter. And then the case gets sent to another district attorney who tries to slander the victim and his family and then recuses himself. It’s insanity.”

Here is the full statement that Brunswick District Attorney Jackie Johnson emailed to 11Alive News Friday:

“It is unfortunate that Commissioners Murphy and Booker have chosen to make false accusations against District Attorney Jackie Johnson in an attempt to make excuses and ignore the problems at the Glynn County Police Department, for which they are ultimately responsible. Acting Police Chief Jay Wiggins has indicated that it was a mistake that then Police Chief John Powell did not immediately call in the Georgia Bureau of Investigation to investigate the death of Ahmaud Arbery.

“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. 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?

“Under Georgia law, the District Attorney has no arrest powers. Rather, it is the duty and obligation of the law enforcement officer to determine probable cause for arrest. The District Attorney is available to advise on the law. Our District Attorney's office’s willingness to assist law enforcement officers on matters of law is now being used by the Glynn County Police Department as an excuse to pass the buck and fail to act.

“When two Assistant District Attorneys were contacted by the Glynn County Police Department on February 23, 2020, they immediately cited a conflict of interest and stated our office could not be involved. Our office offered to facilitate getting assistance from another District Attorney's office.

“At no time on February 23, 2020, did District Attorney Jackie Johnson have any conversation with any Glynn County police officer about this case. Further, no Assistant District Attorney in the office directed any Glynn County police officer not to make an arrest.

“While our office did assist in putting the Glynn County Police Department in contact with the District Attorney in the Waycross Circuit, we did not direct his actions or appoint him to the case. Rather, that was done by the Attorney General's Office of the State of Georgia. Our office made the Attorney General aware of our conflict and recusal by letter on February 25, 2020.”

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