Mother of Ahmaud Arbery files $1m suit claiming police ‘cover up’ in son’s death

The lawsuit alleges police and prosecutors tried to shield the alleged shooters from prosecution

Josh Marcus
San Francisco
Wednesday 24 February 2021 21:56
The McMichaels are arrested for murder of Ahmaud Arbery

The mother of Ahmaud Arbery, a 25-year-old Black man shot and killed by a group of white men in Georgia while he was jogging, filed a $1 million civil case on Tuesday against the individuals and local law enforcement officials involved in the case, one year after her son was killed.

In the lawsuit, filed in federal court in Georgia, Wanda Cooper alleges the father and son Gregory and Travis McMichael, as well as William “Roddie” Bryan, “hunted Ahmaud down” in their truck and shot him, then uttered a racial slur as he died.

In the subsequent investigation into the shooting, Ms Cooper alleges that local officials, including the Glynn County Police, former Brunswick Judicial circuit district attorney Jackie Johnson, Waycross Judicial Circuit district attorney George Barnhill, and others of tried to “cover up” the incident and"were motivated to deprive Ahmaud Arbery of equal protection of the law and his rights by racial bias, animus, discrimination."

“For nearly three months, Glynn County police officers, the chief of police, and two prosecutors conspired to hide the circumstances surrounding Ahmaud’s death and to protect the men who murdered him,” the suit reads. “And none of this would have been discovered but for video footage leaked to the media, which showed the horrific and brutal murder of Ahmaud.”

The McMichaels and Mr Bryan were arrested in May and are charged with murder. They remain in jail without bond, and insist they didn’t commit any crimes because they were making a citizen’s arrest.

Attorneys for the McMichaels and the Glynn County Police Department did not respond a request for comment from The Independent. Mr Barnhill’s office declined to comment, and the office of former district attorney Johnson declined to share her contact information.

“The filing of the civil lawsuit, seeking money damages "in excess of a million dollars"  was not unexpected,  Kevin Gough, an attorney for Mr Bryan said. “The civil suit, like the criminal case, will show that Mr. Bryan acted within the law.”’

Family members and supporters remembered Mr Arbery at a memorial on Tuesday at New Springfield Baptist Church in Waynesboro, Georgia, where he is buried.

"I’ve got to get justice for my boy, and I’ve got to make sure those three men never walk the streets again," Marcus Arbery, Mr Arbery’s father, told the radio station WABE, speaking about the anniversary. "I’m starving for justice for him. And we’re going to get justice."

The lawsuit alleges that authorities mishandled the investigation into Mr Arbery’s death, and cites the fact that after the shooting, police let Travis McMichael, who shot Arbery, and the others leave after interviews without being arrested. The first prosecutor who handled the case didn’t believe charges were necessary. It was two months before anyone was arrested, after cellphone video of the incident, captured by Mr Bryan, leaked online in May. The following day, the Georgia Bureau of Investigation took over the case and arrested the trio.

The suit hones in on personal connections between those investigating the case and the accused. Gregory McMichael had previously worked for Ms Johnson’s office as an investigator, leading her to recuse herself from the case. A Glynn County Commissioner said DA Johnson had instructed police not to arrest the McMichaels. (She told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution this was a “vicious lie.”)

After recusing herself, Ms Johnson, who was voted out in November, handed off the case to Mr Barnhill. He quickly decided charges weren’t necessary, and was eventually removed for his own conflict. His son worked for Ms Johnson and had previously prosecuted a case against Arbery before his death.

In May, Georgia attorney general Chris Carr asked the GBI to explore “possible prosecutorial misconduct” from Ms Johnson and Mr Barnhill, and as of November, federal authorities were reportedly investigated them as well. They both have denied any wrongdoing.

Mr Arbery, an avid runner and former high school football star, was out for a jog in the coastal town of Satilla Shores, Georgia the day of his killing. The McMichaels believed Mr Arbery looked like the suspect in a string of recent burglaries, and grabbed a .357 revolver and shotgun and began to pursue him in their truck. Once they caught up with him, video of the incident captures Mr Arbery and the men in a scuffle before he is shot and killed.

The incident has been called a “modern-day lynching,” and was one of a wave of killings of unarmed Black people at the hands of White people which helped inspire nationwide civil rights protests over the summer as part of the Black Lives Matter movement.

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