SAVANNAH, Ga. (WTOC) - The Georgia Bureau of Investigation joined Georgia Attorney General Chris Carr in reviewing how two district attorneys handled the early stages of the investigation into Ahmaud Arbery’s death, including why the prosecutors withheld possible conflicts from Carr’s office.
Carr said Tuesday that he asked the GBI to investigate whether Brunswick DA Jackie Johnson and Waycross DA George Barnhill violated state law outlining how public officers act in their official capacities.
That law outlines unprofessional conduct by public officers and employees that would result in a misdemeanor. The public officials can be charged for several things, including “malpractice, misfeasance, or malfeasance in office,” or “using any other deliberate means to delay or avoid the due course or proceeding of law.”
Johnson recused her office four days after the shooting because it involved a former employee of her office. Carr told WTOC Monday that Johnson recommended giving the case to Barnhill.
However, Carr said Barnhill never shared that Barnhill recommended against charging the McMichaels the day after the shooting, which was three days before Carr appointed Barnhill to the case. In Barnhill’s recusal letter in early April, he told the Attorney General’s office his son prosecuted Arbery in a prior case while working for Johnson’s office, a conflict Carr said Barnhill also withheld for weeks.
WTOC spoke with the Attorney General Monday about the expectation prosecutors have to be forthcoming when a conflict comes up before ever taking a case.
"It is an administrative role we play; it's an important role that we play, but we don't get the case file,” Carr said. “We don't do an investigation, because a district attorney knows their interest and knows their relationships far better than we would."
Durden’s recusal on Monday had nothing to do with a conflict. Rather, Durden said the scope of the investigation outgrew the resources in his office.
There’s also another statement in the letter where Durden said he supported charging the McMichaels all along. He also said he supported the immediate arrest of the McMichaels.
“The case was certainly one that needed to be presented to a Grand Jury for consideration of criminal charges," Durden wrote in his recusal letter. "After meeting with the GBI, it was my opinion that to protect the integrity of the prosecution, arrests should be made immediately."
Those arrests happened last Thursday, with Gregory and Travis McMichael being booked on murder charges.
Carr also requested a concurrent federal probe into whether Johnson and Barnhill violated federal law in how they handled the case. The Department of Justice is reviewing the state’s request.