The Tide - notes in the ebb and flow of news

The indicted former Brunswick district attorney, accused of interfering in the investigation into Ahmaud Arbery’s death, is seeking to block the use of “highly disputed” criminal charges against her in a civil lawsuit brought by Arbery’s mother. 

Former Brunswick Judicial Circuit DA Jackie Johnson is battling a lawsuit initiated by Wanda Cooper Jones that alleges Johnson, Glynn County police, and another DA created an atmosphere of impunity that allowed Gregory and Travis McMichael to act like law enforcement officers, kill the 25-year-old Black man and not fear consequences, according to court documents.

Arbery was chased, confronted and killed by the McMichaels and their neighbor William “Roddie” Bryan as he jogged through their Glynn County neighborhood. No arrests were made for more than two months until the investigation was turned over to the Georgia Bureau of Investigation. The three men, all white, were eventually convicted on state murder charges and federal hate crime charges.

Johnson still faces her own, separate criminal trial on charges related to her alleged mishandling of the Arbery investigation, including allegations she showed favor to Greg, who worked as her office’s investigator, and she tried to keep his son from being arrested. Johnson’s lawyers have tried to get the charges dismissed and say she is not guilty.

Johnson also is a defendant in the Arbery family civil suit, and her lawyer is now arguing that the criminal allegations shouldn’t be used as evidence in that case because they haven’t been proven yet, according to an Oct. 13 court filing. 

The “‘facts are nothing more than highly disputed, inflammatory allegations,” says James Elliot, a lawyer from Valdosta.

The court filing highlights the former DA’s continued legal battle against the pending criminal case. Although she was indicted by Attorney General Chris Carr in March 2021, the case has been dormant for more than six months. No date has been set for her arraignment.

Jackie Johnson

Meanwhile, the Arbery family civil lawsuit is continuing after a stay expired in July when the McMichaels and William “Roddie” Bryan were sentenced on federal hate crimes charges. Since then, there have been no filed updates on the stay.

Arbery’s mother filed her lawsuit on Feb. 23, 2021, a year after Arbery’s death.

A month afterward, a grand jury indicted Johnson for violating her oath of office and obstructing a law enforcement officer in the Arbery case. 

In March 2022, Johnson, whose criminal case is still pending, asked the judge to dismiss her indictment, describing the charges as a “politically motivated hit job.”

She asserted it was Glynn County Police officers, not her office, that turned a blind eye during Arbery’s investigation. She said she was the victim of a political vendetta by Glynn County officials.

The Tide brings news and observations from The Current’s staff.

Jake Shore covers public safety and the courts system in Savannah and Coastal Georgia. He is also a Report for America corps member. Prior to joining The Current, Jake worked for the Island Packet and...