Arbery’s mom files lawsuit a year after his murder

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Georgia man chased and shot to death while jogging

Wanda Cooper-Jones, mother of Ahmaud Arbery, sits for a portrait at Pendleton King Park in Augusta, Georgia, on July 24, 2020. On Feb. 23, 2020, Ahmaud Arbery was fatally shot while jogging in a neighborhood near Brunswick.

ALYSSA POINTER/ATLANTA JOURNAL-CONSTITUTION/TNS

BY CHRISTIAN BOONE
ATLANTA JOURNAL-CONSTITUTION/TNS

ATLANTA — Racism, alleges a new federal civil rights lawsuit, played a pivotal role in the fatal shooting of Ahmaud Arbery. The cover-up that followed was nearly as sinister, claims the complaint, filed on behalf of Arbery’s mother.

Wanda Cooper-Jones’ suit, which seeks more than $1 million in damages, comes one year to the day of her son’s death.

Defendants include the three men, Greg McMichael, Travis McMichael and William “Roddie” Bryan, charged with felony murder for chasing down and killing the 25-year-old as he ran through their subdivision just south of Brunswick.

Their deadly pursuit stemmed from Arbery’s race, according to the suit. He was African American; they are White. Lawyers for the three men argue they acted within their rights to defend themselves against a man they believed was responsible for a series of thefts in their community.

Outlines a cover-up

The complaint digs deep into alleged cronyism by local law enforcement officials, part of “a deliberate effort to cover up Ahmaud’s murder,” wrote CooperJones’ lawyers. Two local prosecutors and selected members of the Glynn County Police Department, including its former chief, are named in the suit.

“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 complaint states.

The cover-up started the minute Glynn police arrived at the crime scene, the suit claims. Police arrived to find Arbery laying in a pool of his own blood, shot three times by Travis McMichael.

Armed and dangerous

The shooter’s father, Greg McMichael, a retired investigator with the Brunswick District Attorney’s office, had seen Arbery running by his home inside Satilla Shores and reported he had a “gut feeling” that the young Black man was responsible for a series of intrusions and burglaries inside their neighborhood, Satillia Shores.

McMichael armed himself with a Smith and Wesson 686 .357 Magnum revolver, the same one he was issued when he was a Glynn County police officer, the suit states.

He enlisted his son, carrying a Remington 870 pump .12-gauge shotgun, to drive his pickup truck in pursuit of Arbery. They were eventually joined by neighbor Bryan, who used his vehicle to help trap Arbery. Bryan also recorded the harrowing video of the shooting which would ultimately upend the conspiracy alleged by Cooper-Jones.

The trio believed they were acting “on behalf and under the cover of Glynn County police,” who had effectively deputized the men to respond to intrusions at a house under construction, the suit contends.

No immediate charges

A text message from Officer Robert Rash, also named as a defendant, suggested the lot owner, Larry English, contact Greg McMichael “day or night when you get action on your camera.” English, who lived two hours away, monitored the property via a hidden camera.

Arbery had, in fact, stopped at the unfinished home the afternoon of his death. But nothing was reported stolen. The suit claims the site was along a jogging route Arbery often followed.

The cover-up continued after police decided not to arrest the McMichaels or Bryan, according to the complaint. Greg McMichael’s former boss, Jackie Johnson, intervened immediately.

The suit claims her office advised police that charges were nnot necessary, adding that Ware County District Attorney George Barnhill was taking the case over.Johnson had a long history with the elder McMichael.

“When Defendant Gregory McMichael was stripped of arrest powers due to his failure to complete basic training to maintain his certification as an officer, Defendant Johnson intervened on his behalf to get him an ‘exemption’ from state-mandated training,” the suit alleges.

DA handpicked

Johnson, the complaint continues, led McMichael “to believe that he could act with impunity when engaging in law enforcement conduct.”

The longtime Brunswick DA, who lost her re-election bid last fall, handpicked Barnhill despite the fact his son was employed by Johnson and had worked alongside Greg McMichael.

On Feb. 24, the day after Arbery’s death, Barnhill, whose appointment was not yet official, told Glynn detectives he had concluded that “the act was justifiable homicide,” according to the suit.

Four days later, he told reporters the investigation centered on the burglary of a home under construction in Satilla Shores and said the investigation was “about 70 percent done.” He would later determine the McMichaels and Bryan acted on “solid firsthand probable cause,” well within the law.

“Defendant Barnhill further ratified Defendants Gregory McMichael’s, Travis McMichael’s, and Bryan’s illegal and unconstitutional conduct by providing false information to Georgia Attorney General Chris Carr by stating he had ‘video of Arbery burglarizing a home immediately preceding the chase and confrontation,’” the complaint states.

No such video has been produced.

“If not for the video of Ahmaud’s killing being released, the Glynn County Police Department, Rash, Gregory McMichael, Travis McMichael, Bryan, Johnson, and Barnhill would have successfully conspired to deprive Ahmaud of his constitutional rights,” the suit concludes.

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