State representative calls on governor to remove first DA to pass on Brunswick Circuit DA after Arbery case

Ahmaud Arbery (Photo provided by family members)

Georgia Representative Jeff Jones, who serves the Glynn County area, is calling on Governor Brian Kemp to remove Brunswick Judicial Circuit District Attorney Jackie Johnson for “for years of the gross mismanagement and abject politicized manner in which the BJC DA’s office has functioned” including the handling of the investigation into the death of Ahmaud Arbery earlier this year.

Arbery, 25, was killed Feb. 23 just outside the port city of Brunswick. Gregory McMichael, 64, told police he and his son, Travis McMichael, 34, pursued Arbery because they believed he was responsible for recent break-ins in the neighborhood.

The McMichaels weren’t arrested and charged with murder until May 7, after a video of the shooting was publicly released to a local radio station and less than 48 hours after state agents took over the case.

Gregory McMichael and Travis McMichael (Glynn County Sheriff's Office)

The man who shot the video, Bryan Williams, also was charged.

Brunswick Circuit District Attorney Jackie Johnson has defended her office’s involvement. The elder McMichael worked for her as an investigator before retiring a year ago, which required the office to step away from the case.

She handed the case to Waycross Circuit District Attorney George Barnhill. That prosecutor also recused himself, but not before writing a letter saying he believed the McMichaels had been justified in trying to hold Arbery until police arrived and their actions were “perfectly legal.”

FOX 5’s Claire Simms obtained the letter from Rep. Jones to the governor’s office date June 5, 2020. It reads:

“The Glynn County community is experiencing a high degree of pain and grief as a result of Ahmaud Arbery’s tragic death in February, 2020.  Ahmaud’s death has caused our community to introspectively analyze and evaluate our area judiciary leadership, specifically Jackie Johnson, the Brunswick Judicial Circuit District Attorney. Fortunately, our community has dealt with the pain of Ahmaud’s horrific death in a peaceful and relatively calm manner.  In many ways, Ahmaud’s tragic death is bringing our community together in unexpected and positive ways.

“By this letter, I am expressing my strong support for the removal of District Attorney Jackie Johnson from her position as the Brunswick Judicial Circuit District Attorney. Locally, many of us have been aware for years of the gross mismanagement and abject politicized manner in which the BJC DA’s office has functioned.  Rather than elaborate here, I am confident that the GBI investigation, in particular the DA office’s handling of Ahmaud Arbery’s death, will expose and support my statement pointing out the systematic mismanagement of the BJC DA’s office.

“Also, by this letter, I want to encourage the Governor’s office to give careful and thoughtful consideration to appointing the most viable and capable candidate to fill the soon to be vacated Brunswick Judicial Circuit District Attorney’s position – Attorney Keith Higgins.  Keith is the only alternative candidate vying for the seat in this election cycle, in addition to DA Johnson.

“Keith is very well respected locally and has a tremendous amount of support by a broad cross-section of the local community in his seeking election to the BJC DA office.  Despite running for the seat as an Independent, a decision he made in recognition that to do so was the only way to appear on the General “Election ballot in November, Keith is a true and solid conservative.  Keith will return honor and integrity to the BJC DA’s office.

“Keith has been an attorney for more than 30 years. From 1988 – 2010, Keith served admirably and honorably as an Assistant District Attorney in the Brunswick Judicial Circuit District Attorney's Office.  Keith has invaluable knowledge about police procedures, and is uniquely positioned - at this time - to serve as our next Brunswick Judicial Circuit DA, returning the respect of our community so important for the DA’s office. Keith is an experienced trial lawyer and negotiator.  He is the right man at the right time to serve as the new BJC DA.

“As a community, we hope and pray that Ahmaud Arbery’s death will not be in vain and that his death will be a catalyst for much needed and long overdue change in the Brunswick Judicial Circuit DA’s office.

“In closing, it is my hope and the desire of many in our community that the Governor’s office will select Keith Higgins as the next Brunswick Judicial Circuit District Attorney.”

Jackie Johnson’s office told The Brunswick News they were not aware of the letter and offered the paper no response.

All three men now charged in connection to Arbery’s death have maintained their innocence. Each of their lawyers said the crime for their clients are charged are not as clear cut as one may believe and that the truth will come out in court.

Earlier this month, a judge ruled there was enough evidence against all three defendants for the case to move forward.

The Associated Press contributed to this report