One of the men convicted of murder in the street chase and fatal shooting Ahmaud Arbery spoke with his former boss, the local district attorney, several times by phone in the days and weeks after the 2020 killing, according to a court document filed Thursday.
Investigators discovered that the day after the shooting, then-District Attorney for the Brunswick Judicial Circuit, Jackie Johnson, phoned Greg McMichael, a retired investigator from his office who started the deadly manhunt for Arbery. The call lasted more than nine minutes, prosecutors in a misconduct case against Johnson, he said in the legal filing.
The filing opposes defense motions seeking dismissal of the case.
It listed 16 calls between Johnson and McMichael’s phone numbers beginning on February 23, 2020, when McMichael left Johnson a voicemail about an hour after the shooting, and ending on May 5, 2020, the day on that a graphic cell phone video of Arbery’s murder was leaked online. The video sparked a national outcry over the death of the young black man at the hands of three white pursuers.
More than half of the calls lasted between a few seconds and a minute, suggesting that some went unanswered and others involved voicemails. Seven calls lasted between just three minutes and 21 minutes, according to the court file.
a grand jury accused Johnson last year for a felony of violating his oath of office, as well as a misdemeanor of hindering a police investigation. Georgia Attorney General Chris Carr’s office is prosecuting the case, which alleges Johnson used his position to protect McMichael and his son.
“Evidence shows that Johnson showed favor and affection for McMichael throughout the case, including when she was making decisions as district attorney on his case,” the prosecutors’ legal filing said.
Johnson has insisted that he immediately recused himself from the investigation and turned the case over to outside prosecutors. Her lawyers have asked a judge to dismiss the charges, saying there is “not a shred of evidence” that she interfered with the police investigation.
Johnson’s attorney, John Ossick, did not immediately respond Thursday to phone and email messages seeking comment on the calls between Johnson and McMichael. Prosecutors’ legal filing did not give details of any of the phone conversations.
McMichael and his son, Travis McMichael, armed themselves with weapons and used a pickup truck to chase 25-year-old Arbery after seeing him running in their neighborhood outside the port city of Brunswick. A neighbor, William “Roddie” Bryan, joined the chase in his own truck and recorded cellphone video of Travis McMichael shooting Arbery at close range with a shotgun.
The men told police that Travis McMichael opened fire in self-defense when Arbery threw his fists and tried to grab the shotgun. The McMichaels told police they suspected Arbery of being a thief. Arbery was unarmed when he was killed and police found no evidence that he had stolen anything.
The three men were convicted of murder by a state court jury last November and were he is sentenced to life imprisonment. They were tried again in federal court, with a jury. condemning them in february of committing hate crimes. Sentencing in that case is scheduled for August.
Johnson lost his re-election race for district attorney in November 2020 and blamed public outrage for the delay in arrests in Arbery’s death, though he denied any wrongdoing.
Hours after the shooting, Johnson recruited District Attorney George Barnhill of the neighboring Waycross Judicial Circuit to meet with local police the next day and advise them on the case. Prosecutors in the misconduct case said Barnhill decided after a meeting not to press charges.
Johnson waited until after that meeting to ask the Georgia attorney general’s office to appoint an outside prosecutor to oversee the case. The legal filing says Johnson called the attorney general’s office three days after Arbery’s death and told a paralegal that Barnhill had already taken up the case.
“However, Johnson failed to disclose that Barnhill had already reviewed the case and stated that the case was self-defense,” the legal document says. “Therefore, Johnson effectively chose the outcome of the case despite having a conflict.”
Barnhill ended up recusing himself. On April 3, 2020, when Johnson learned that Barnhill was stepping aside, he received a call from his phone to Greg McMichael, according to court records.
The last call between them was made on May 5, 2020, when the video of the murder was posted online. The murder trial revealed that the video was leaked to a local radio station by a lawyer Greg McMichael had consulted.
The call involved Greg McMichael leaving a voicemail thanking Johnson for a referral, according to the court filing. He told her, “He’s going to step in for me right now, and that’s really good advice, and I really appreciate it.”
Greg Michael and his son were arrested on murder charges two days later. Bryan’s arrest followed after two weeks.