Sept. 1, 2022
Arbery family civil lawsuit delayed
While the men convicted of killing Ahmaud Arbery began their life sentences in the Georgia prison system last month, a sprawling civil lawsuit filed by Arbery’s mother seeking damages over a year ago remains administratively stalled.
The case was originally filed by Wanda Cooper Jones in February 2021 alleging that institutional failures, prosecutorial conspiracy, and an informal “deputization” of the men who chased down her son contributed to his death.
But on Oct. 12, 2021, a federal magistrate judge ordered a “stay” on the case, stopping court proceedings from going forward, after Gregory McMichael, Travis McMichael, and William Bryan requested that the murder charges they were facing be handled first.
They were arrested in May 2020 on charges they hunted down and killed Arbery, a 25-year-old Black jogger out for a run in the neighborhood of Satilla Shores.
Months after their arrest, a state jury found the McMichaels and Bryan guilty of felony murder, a conviction for which they received life in prison. Then last month, they received their final sentences for a federal hate crimes conviction, affirming that the murder of Arbery was racially motivated.
The McMichaels and Bryan have since entered the Georgia Department of Corrections’ custody and are incarcerated at Georgia Diagnostic and Classification Prison in Jackson.
However, since their sentencings, U.S. District Judge Benjamin W. Cheesbro ordered the stay remain in place and reaffirmed it on Wednesday, according to court filings.
It’s not clear how long the stay on the case will last, but Judge Cheesbro suggested in a recent order the case wouldn’t go forward until the McMichaels and Bryan were sentenced to prison.
“The Court does not consider the criminal matters resolved prior to sentencing, and the previously imposed stay remains in effect until the Court expressly lifts the stay by Order,” Cheesbro wrote on Aug. 8.
In the lawsuit, Arbery’s mother alleges Glynn County should be held liable for essentially deputizing the McMichaels to act as if they were law enforcement when they chased down Arbery. The lawsuit accused the Glynn County Police Department of sanctioning their vigilance over the neighborhood via communications by an officer with the McMichaels and a culture of misconduct and failing to investigate wrongdoing.
Glynn County denies the claims.
“No official in Georgia has the ability to orally appoint private citizens to act as full-fledged law-enforcement officers, and a street-level officer…has no authority to deputize anyone to do anything,” the county wrote in a filing.
The suit also takes aim at two district attorneys, including former DA Jackie Johnson, for casting aspersions on Arbery’s killing in the days after in order to allegedly cover for Gregory McMichael. Johnson is facing criminal indictments on the same accusations and has denied any wrongdoing.
Art therapy for our streets
In 2020, pedestrian deaths increased 10% nationally so several U.S. cities are trying to make crosswalks safer by adding a touch of color.
Street design for visibility, speeding, and bigger cars are major factors in pedestrian deaths, according to a PBS filmmaker working on a documentary about America’s deadly streetscape.
That’s why cities like Durham, N.C., gave a makeover to a crosswalk at a dangerous intersection with colorful dots and a blue mural featuring fish.
The bright colors enhanced visibility and reduced conflicts between cars and pedestrians by 30% and reduced anxiety of walkers about using dangerous intersections from 85% to 6%.
Read more about the effort on our website, a story published in collaboration with Reasons to be Cheerful and the Solutions Journalism Network.
Officer Reginald Brannan
A Savannah police officer lost his life in a traffic crash this week.
Savannah Police Department Officer Reginald Brannan was traveling home from work after midnight on Monday morning, when his car collided with a tractor trailer on Highway 21 in Garden City. Brannan died from his injuries. He had been working for the department for less than two years when he was killed.
A memorial for Brannan is set up at the department’s Northwest Precinct at 602 E. Lathrop Ave. for anyone seeking to pay their respects, according to Savannah Police.
“He was a young officer just starting his career,” Interim Chief Lenny Gunther said in a release. “We ask everyone to keep his family, friends and the SPD family in your thoughts and prayers as we mourn the loss of this member of our SPD family.”
Cpl. Ava Lucas
On Wednesday, the Chatham County Sheriff’s Department announced the death of Cpl. Ava Lucas. Lucas joined the department in 2007 and was named Officer of the Month in June. She died Sunday, Aug. 28, and was not on duty at the time of her death. Her marked patrol car 17-777 is at the main entrance/front lobby of the Chatham County Sheriff’s Office, 1050 Carl Griffin Drive, as a memorial through Friday, Sept. 9.
Quick note: The Undercurrent will take a quick break next week. It will return Sept. 15. In the meantime, if you have a story idea, comment, or question? Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Greg and Travis McMichael and William Bryan entered the custody of the Georgia Department of Corrections, after being convicted of chasing and killing Ahmaud Arbery in February 2020. They will be screened to decide what prison they will enter.
Pedestrian deaths are spiking. If speeding and visibility are the problem, then color might help. Artists and communities worked to mark safer walking paths and intersections and conflicts between drivers and walkers dropped 30%. More people used the crosswalks.
The Georgia police department responsible for the Ahmaud Arbery murder investigation was told four years ago it had a potential problem with bias. The Current shines a light on just how deep that goes.
Support non-partisan, solutions-based investigative journalism without bias, fear or favor on issues affecting Savannah and Coastal Georgia.