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Handling of Ahmaud Arbery shooting could spark DOJ investigation after AG Chris Carr's request

The investigation may look at how two district attorneys initially handled the case even as they recused themselves - and what they didn't tell the Attorney General.

BRUNSWICK, Ga. — The search for answers as to why it took more than 70 days for an arrest in the shooting death of Ahmaud Arbery may soon be heading to the federal level following a request from the state attorney general's office on Sunday.

In a tweet on Sunday afternoon, Attorney General Chris Carr said that he had formally requested that the U.S. Department of Justice "conduct an investigation into the handling of the case - including communications by & between the Brunswick/Waycross."

Ahmaud Aubery was shot and killed in Brunswick, Georgia on Feb. 23 while family says he was jogging in the area and catching the attention of a father and son who claimed to be concerned about burglaries in the area. The two are accused of pursuing Aubery with one soon shooting him.

It would be months later, following national public outcry and Georgia Bureau of Investigation findings, before 64-year-old Gregory and 34-year-old Travis McMichael were arrested. The father once worked for the district attorney's office in Brunswick and also has a background in law enforcement.

But for all the questions regarding the shooting itself, many also exist for the handling of the case by two area district attorneys.

“We are committed to a complete and transparent review of how the Ahmaud Arbery case was handled from the outset,” Carr wrote on Sunday. “The family, the community, and the state of Georgia deserve answers, and we will work with others in law enforcement at the state and federal level to find those answers.”

Since the day of the shooting and the eventual arrests, questions have arisen about not only the Glynn County district attorney's actions in the wake of the shooting but also those of the district attorney in Waycross, Georgia who was initially handed the case after Jackie Johnson recused herself. As such, Waycross District Attorney George Barnhill was charged with handling the case.

However, according to Carr's office, neither Johnson nor Barnhill revealed that Barnhill "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."

Several days later, on April 7, Carr said his office was again requested to appoint another prosecutor for the case.

"In that request, the Waycross Circuit District Attorney again did not inform the Office of the Attorney General of his prior involvement in the case before his appointment and specifically described to the Office of Attorney General the actions he took 'upon taking the case'," according to the Attorney General's statement.

In the same April 7 request, Barnhill also allegedly revealed that both attorney generals had learned weeks earlier that his son, a prosecutor in Brunswick, had handled a prior prosecution of Arbery and that one of the defendants in the case had also served as an investigator on the same prosecution.

Carr's office said in its statement that Barnhill "did not provide any reason for the delay in contacting the Office of Attorney General to request appointment of a new prosecutor since the discovery of those facts."

The statement added that this notice also didn't include that Barnhill had issued a written opinion to police that no arrests be made in the case. However, it did include confirmation of "an initial opinion the day of the shoot" - long before he had been requested to handle the case.

It wouldn't be until the third district attorney was appointed that the GBI would be called in. That district attorney requested the agency on May 5. The agency began its investigation the next day and made two arrests on May 7.

Attorney General Carr's office said that it would be providing the entire file regarding the appointment process for prosecutors in this case and "provide any assistance requested by the U.S. Department of Justice."

Following the announcement, attorneys for Arbery's family released a statement which read, in part: 

"We are pleased that Georgia AG Chris Carr has officially asked the Dept. of Justice to investigate the handling, and potential cover-up, of Ahmaud Arbery's murder. We have requested the involvement of the DOJ since we first took this case. There are far too many questions about how this case was handled and why it took 74 days for two of the killers to be arrested and charged in Mr. Arbery's death.

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