BRUNSWICK, Ga. (WTOC) - The February shooting death of Ahmaud Arbery is the most recent incident involving the Glynn County Police Department that is bringing widespread criticism to the agency.
Glynn County is one of several in Georgia with a county police department and sheriff's office. This means the police department handles most of the law enforcement responsibility in the unincorporated county.
There are already deep concerns in Glynn County about the integrity of the police department and conflicts of interest in this case. Tuesday, the Georgia Bureau of Investigation confirmed the police department never requested the GBI come in and help investigate Arbery's death.
Glynn County Sheriff Neal Jump went to a protest Tuesday in the neighborhood where Arbery died; the group wants an arrest in the case.
"I wanted to be there. As the sheriff, I felt like I needed to be there for everybody involved, and that was the right thing to do,” Jump said.
Glynn County police officers responded to Arbery’s death on Feb. 23. Leaked cell phone video shows Travis McMichael’s father, Gregory, in the bed of the truck when Travis shot Arbery.
Gregory worked at the department in the 80s and spent more than two decades as an investigator with the Brunswick DA. His past in law enforcement, specifically with Glynn County, had many skeptical that a fair investigation was possible.
The prosecutor handling the case, Tom Durden of the Atlantic Judicial Circuit, formally requested the GBI’s help Tuesday night, the same day he announced he would take the case to a grand jury. Durden is the third prosecutor to handle the case; the Brunswick prosecutor recused herself immediately given the McMichaels’ connection to her office. A second prosecutor recused himself at the request of the Arbery family.
“The governor of this state wants justice done in this case, as does the GBI,” GBI Director Vic Reynolds said Wednesday in a statement posted on the agency’s Twitter account. “I’m confident that we’ll deliver that.”
The local NAACP chapter is infuriated an arrest has not already been made.
"Definitely an arrest should have been made on the day of the event,” chapter president John Perry II said. “For it to get months from the day that it happened, is appalling to our community by large.”
Perry believes the unified cry for justice from white and black community leaders makes it more likely something will be done.
This is not the first time the Glynn County Police Department has faced criticism.
In 2018, body cam video shows responding officers laughing with a former colleague of theirs, Robert Sasser, during a domestic violence call. Sasser’s ex-wife called police claiming the former cop tried to break in and threatened to kill her and a man she was with. Weeks later, authorities determined Sasser killed her and that man in the man’s McIntosh County home, before committing suicide.
Separately, an unrelated indictment unsealed days after Arbery’s death accused Chief John Powell of perjury and violating his oath of office. The charges came from Powell’s actions during a GBI investigation into the now-disbanded Glynn County drug unit.
Powell is suspended with pay right now. Perry wants him fired right away given what he views as delays in this case.
“That’s enough negligence to say, we can’t trust his leadership,” said Perry. “For that reason, he needs to be terminated immediately, and we need to receive a police chief that we can trust.”
The accusations of widespread corruption led a Republican state senator to move forward with a referendum for voters to give their opinion whether to disband the agency. He introduced the referendum in March. The measure is on pause until lawmakers reconvene in Atlanta.