Lawyer for Ahmaud Arbery defendant wants George Floyd face coverings banned in court

A lawyer for Arbery's family wore a face covering with the words "George Floyd," prompting a defense lawyer to ask the judge to allow only "content-neutral' masks.

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By David K. Li

A pretrial hearing in the Ahmaud Arbery murder case in Georgia featured a dispute over coronavirus face coverings on Friday, with a defense lawyer objecting to a George Floyd mask in court.

During an arraignment of suspect William “Roddie” Bryan, defense lawyer Kevin Gough called attention to a mask with the words "George Floyd" worn by courtroom spectator S. Lee Merritt, an attorney for Arbery's family.

Gough said it should not be allowed.

Ahmaud Arbery.Courtesy of Family

Floyd, who like Arbery was a Black man, died in Minneapolis police custody on May 25, setting off worldwide protests against police brutality and systemic racism. His death came a month after Arbery was confronted by three white men and gunned down in Brunswick, Georgia.

Gregory McMichael, 64, and Travis McMichael, 34, and Bryan, 50, have all been charged in connection to that slaying.

"If we are permitted to wear masks making political statements, then Mr. Evans and I and his office should be free to wear 'MAGA' masks if we wanted to in the courtroom," Gough said, referring to prosecutor Jesse Evans and President Donald Trump's campaign slogan.

"I imagine the court wouldn’t appreciate that," Gough added. "And I think the same rules should apply and any political statements whether on masks, on lapels, bumper stickers, T-shirts. Whatever people (wear), this is not the place for political statements."

Travis McMichael, left, and Greg McMichael listen to a preliminary hearing via a court video feed, on June 4, 2020, while inside the in the Glynn County jail, in Brunswick, Ga.Glynn County Jail via AP

Gough said only "content-neutral" masks should be allowed in court.

Chatham County Superior Court Judge Timothy Walmsley said he hadn't noticed Merritt's mask and overruled the defense request. But he left the door open for possibly revisiting the issue.

“I”m not one for games," Walmsley said. "If anything in the court becomes disruptive, it’s the court’s position that that disruption will be dealt with. This is not a place to make a statement."

Later in the court day, Gough asked the judge to set bail for his client, insisting that he is not a flight risk and poses no danger to the community.

The prosecutor, Evans, argued that Bryan faces a long prison sentence if convicted, which could be incentive to skip bail. Evans also revealed that prosecutors have obtained text messages from Bryan's phone which allegedly show that he regularly uses racist slurs.

" 'Working like an 'N' today,' " Evans quoted from an alleged text message of Bryan's. "There's just a ton of filth in this defendant's texts regarding that."

And Wanda Cooper-Jones, Arbery's mother, pleaded with the judge to keep Bryan locked up,

"He does not believe there’s anything wrong with what he did. He wants this court or allow him to go home," she told the court. "I am asking this court to say, 'No.' He cannot go home. He did not allow my son to go home.”

The judge denied Bryan bail.