By Russ Bynum
SAVANNAH, Ga. (AP)—Georgia’s attorney general appointed a Black district attorney Monday to take over the case of a white father and son charged with killing a Black man, making her the third outside prosecutor in a slaying that’s prompted a national outcry over suspicions that race played a role in delaying arrests.
Ahmaud Arbery, 25, was fatally shot Feb. 23 by the men who told police they chased him because they believed he matched the appearance of a burglary suspect caught on surveillance video. Gregory McMichael and his son, Travis McMichael, were arrested last week, more than two months later, after video of the shooting appeared online and provoked outrage. Federal prosecutors are also considering hate crimes charges, the Justice Department said.
Cobb County District Attorney Joyette M. Holmes takes over the case from prosecutor Tom Durden, who the state’s attorney general said asked to be replaced by someone with a larger staff and more resources as “this case has grown in size and magnitude.” Holmes is based in metro Atlanta, more than 300 miles (480 kilometers) from the coastal Georgia community in Glynn County where the shooting happened.
“District Attorney Holmes is a respected attorney with experience, both as a lawyer and a judge,” state Attorney General Chris Carr, a Republican, said in a statement. “And the Cobb County District Attorney’s office has the resources, personnel and experience to lead this prosecution and ensure justice is done.”
An attorney for Arbery’s father, Marcus Arbery, applauded the appointment of a new lead prosecutor.
“In order for justice to be carried out both effectively and appropriately in the murder of Ahmaud Arbery, it is imperative that the special prosecutor has no affiliation with the Southeast Georgia legal or law enforcement communities,” attorney Benjamin Crump said in a statement. He asked that Holmes “be zealous in her search for justice.”
The McMichaels weren’t arrested until after the video became public and the Georgia Bureau of Investigation was asked to look into the killing. It was not known Monday whether the McMichaels had attorneys to represent them. They had no lawyers at their first court appearance Friday.
Gregory McMichael, 64, and Travis McMichael, 34, have been jailed since Thursday on charges of felony murder and aggravated assault. Gregory McMichael is a former Glynn County police officer who later worked 20 years as an investigator for the local district attorney’s office. He retired a year ago.
Glynn County District Attorney Jackie Johnson recused herself from the case because the elder McMichael had worked under her. The first outside prosecutor appointed, District Attorney George Barnhill of the neighboring Waycross Judicial Circuit, stepped aside about a month later because his son works for Johnson as an assistant prosecutor. Durden got the case in mid-April.
Attorneys for Arbery’s parents and others, including Carr and the Southern Poverty Law Center, have asked for a federal investigation to weigh whether hate crimes charges should be brought. Georgia has no hate crime law allowing state charges.
“We are assessing all of the evidence to determine whether federal hate crimes charges are appropriate,” Justice Department spokeswoman Kerri Kupec said in a statement Monday.
According to Kupec’s statement, the department is also considering Carr’s request for federal authorities to investigate how local police and prosecutors handled the case. She said Carr has been asked to “forward to federal authorities any information that he has.”
The father and son told police they thought Arbery matched the appearance of a burglary suspect who they said had been recorded on a surveillance camera some time before, according to the Glynn County police report filed after the shooting.
Arbery’s mother, Wanda Cooper Jones, has said she thinks her son, a former high school football player, was just jogging in the neighborhood before he was killed.
The leaked video shows a Black man running at a jogging pace. A truck is stopped in the road ahead of him, with one white man standing in the pickup’s bed and another beside the open driver’s side door.
The running man attempts to pass the pickup on the passenger side, moving briefly outside the camera’s view. A gunshot sounds, and the video shows the running man grappling with a man over what appears to be a shotgun or rifle. A second shot can be heard, and the running man can be seen punching the other man. A third shot is fired at point-blank range. The running man staggers a few feet and falls face down.
A man who says he recorded the cellphone video of the shooting said he’s received death threats.
William R. Bryan—who reportedly goes by “Roddie”—is identified as a witness in the police report taken after Arbery’s shooting. He also appears to be mentioned in a single sentence of the report, which says Gregory McMichael told an officer that “‘Roddy’ attempted to block (Arbery) which was unsuccessful.” It’s not clear what that is referring to.
“I had nothing to do with it. I’m trying to get my life back to normal, and it’s been smeared for the last week,” Bryan told WJAX-TV in an interview that aired Monday. “I was told I was a witness and I’m not sure what I am, other than receiving a bunch of threats.”
Bryan has not been charged in the case. The TV station reported Bryan would not discuss his involvement in the events that led to Arbery’s death.
vehicle safety recalls
Program to help inform vehicle owners about safety recalls announced
WASHINGTON—The U.S. Department of Transportation’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration today announced that States can apply for funding to help drivers learn about and repair open safety recalls on their vehicles.
“Recalls are serious. Recall repairs are completely free to the consumer. These grants will serve as an example to the rest of the country as we continue to work across government to reach consumers in new and creative ways with potentially lifesaving information about their vehicles,” said U.S Transportation Secretary Elaine L. Chao.
In 2017, NHTSA entered a $222,300 cooperative agreement with the State of Maryland, launching a two-year pilot program to provide open recall information to consumers when they register a new vehicle or renew a registration. From April 2018 to January 2020, Maryland had 4.6 million vehicle registrations renewed, with 456,000 of those vehicles identified as having 943,000 open recalls. Of those, 371,000 individual recalls were repaired, according to the Maryland Motor Vehicle Administration, and more than 32% of the recalls remedied were air bags.
The grant program provides funds totaling $1.5 million for as many as six States to notify consumers of open recalls during vehicle registration. Participating States will notify owners and lessees of vehicles with open recalls along with registration notices. The States will also provide a brief description of the defect, the nature of the recall, and information on getting it fixed immediately at the manufacturer’s authorized dealer.
The States will implement the notification program for a two-year period and evaluate the results. This program is intended to supplement and does not in any way replace the vehicle manufacturer’s legal obligation to alert consumers of recalls on their vehicles and to provide a remedy free of charge.
“Getting a recall repaired could save your life—or the life of someone you love. Recalls are serious, and recall repairs are completely free. I encourage States to apply for funding and join us in spreading this lifesaving message,” said NHTSA Deputy Administrator James Owens.
On average, only about 60% of recalled vehicles are repaired. Improving recall remedy rates is a NHTSA priority, especially due to the Takata air bag recall, the largest and most complex recall in automotive history.