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Former DA indicted after allegedly 'showing favor' to men accused of killing Ahmaud Arbery

Jacquelyn Lee Johnson is accused of violation of oath of public officer and obstruction of a police officer in her handling of the case, the Georgia attorney general announced.
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A former Georgia district attorney was indicted Thursday by a grand jury, which said she showed preference to the men accused of killing Ahmaud Arbery last year.

The former prosecutor, Jacquelyn Lee Johnson, was indicted on charges of violation of oath of public officer and obstruction of a police officer, Georgia Attorney General Chris Carr announced. Johnson was the Brunswick Judicial Circuit district attorney when Arbery, 25, a Black man, was shot in February 2020. Johnson ultimately lost re-election in November.

Arbery was shot and killed on Feb. 23 after Gregory McMichael, 64, and Travis McMichael, 34, his son, followed him in their pickup. Arbery’s family has said he was out jogging, while the McMichaels, who are white, said they thought he was a burglar.

IMAGE: Ahmaud Arbery in a family photo
Ahmaud Arbery in a family photo.Courtesy of family

Johnson recused herself from the case days after the shooting. She noted that Gregory McMichael, a former Glynn County police officer, had been an investigator in her office for more than 30 years before he retired in May 2019.

Johnson now accused of "showing favor and affection to Greg McMichael during the investigation," according to the indictment document released Thursday. She also is alleged to have hindered two police officers "by directing that Travis McMichael should not be placed under arrest."

The indictment also alleges that Johnson sought help from Waycross Judicial Circuit District Attorney George E. Barnhill, whom she recommended to take the case after she stepped aside, without disclosing her previous conversations with Barnhill.

Barnhill recused himself in April and defended the McMichaels in his letter, stating to the police captain at the time that the father and his son had "solid first hand probable cause" to believe Arbery was a burglar.

No further details about the allegations were released. Carr’s office said it will continue to investigate.

Johnson did not immediately return a voicemail requesting comment Thursday.

“Former DA Johnson may not have pulled the trigger on the day Ahmaud was murdered, but she played a starring role in the cover-up,” attorney Ben Crump said Friday.

Crump and Lee Merritt, the family's attorneys, held a virtual news conference with Arbery’s mother and father, Wanda Cooper and Marcus Arbery Sr.

Merritt said he hopes the charges against Johnson have a “ripple effect throughout the legal community” to stamp out systemic racism, adding that her alleged actions amplified a system stacked against Black people.

He accused Johnson of denying Arbery’s family “answers and access to information … to ensure that this case remain encumbered in a legal process that tends to lend itself, or bend, in favor of law enforcement.”

Cooper lauded Johnson’s indictment “as a very huge win.”

Arbery's father added: “Black people have been treated bad too long. … Everybody got to pay with accountability with what they do wrong. It took my son to die for people to see what was going on. It should not be like that.”

Although Arbery died in February 2020, the case did not get intense scrutiny until video of the shooting was released in early May 2020. The video circulated online and drew widespread outrage, and the case was referred to the Georgia Bureau of Investigation not long after its release.

In the video, which was posted by Arbery family attorney Lee Merritt, Arbery is seen jogging down a road as a white pickup truck is stopped in front of him. Arbery runs around the vehicle, and a shot is fired. The video shows Arbery and another man appearing to tussle as two more shots are fired.

NBC News does not know what occurred before the events shown in the video.

The McMichaels have been charged with felony murder, along with their neighbor William "Roddie" Bryan, 50. Bryan, who was with the McMichaels and recorded the video, argued that he was just a witness.

All three men pleaded not guilty.

CORRECTION (Sept. 2, 2021, 8:05 p.m. ET): A previous version of this article misspelled the former prosecutor's first name. She is Jacquelyn Lee Johnson, not Jaquelyn. It also misstated when Ahmaud Arbery was killed. He was killed in February 2020, not last February.