SAVANNAH, Ga. — One of the men convicted of murder in the street chase and fatal shooting of Ahmaud Arbery has spoken to his former boss, the local district attorney, multiple times over the phone in the days and weeks following the 2020 murder, according to a court document filed Thursday.
Investigators found that the day after the shooting, Jackie Johnson, then the Brunswick Judicial District Attorney, phoned Greg McMichael, a retired investigator in his office who launched the Arbery murder prosecution. The call lasted more than nine minutes, prosecutors in a misconduct case against Johnson said in the legal filing.
The filing opposes defense motions to dismiss the case.
It listed 16 calls between Johnson and McMichael’s phone numbers starting February 23, 2020, when McMichael left Johnson a voicemail about an hour after the shooting, and ending May 5, 2020, the day the video cellphone graphic of Arbery’s murder has been leaked online. The video sparked a national outcry following the death of the young black man at the hands of three white pursuers.
More than half of the calls lasted just a few seconds to a minute, suggesting some went unanswered and others involved voicemails. Seven calls lasted between just under three minutes and 21 minutes, according to the court record.
A grand jury indicted Johnson last year for felony breach of his oath of office as well as misdemeanor obstruction of a police investigation. Georgia Attorney General Chris Carr’s office is pursuing the case, which alleges Johnson used his position to protect McMichael and his son.
“Evidence shows that Johnson showed favor and affection for McMichael throughout the case, including when she was making decisions as prosecutor on her case,” the prosecutors’ legal filing said. .
Johnson insisted she immediately withdrew from the investigation and turned the case over to outside prosecutors. Her lawyers have asked a judge to dismiss the charges, saying “there is not a shred of evidence” that she interfered with the police investigation.
Johnson’s attorney, John Ossick, did not immediately respond to phone and email messages Thursday seeking comment on the calls between Johnson and McMichael. The prosecutors’ legal brief gave no details of any of the phone conversations.
McMichael and his son, Travis McMichael, armed themselves with guns and used a van to chase Arbery, 25, after spotting him running in their neighborhood just outside the port city of Braunschweig. A neighbor, William “Roddie” Bryan, joined the chase in his own truck and recorded cellphone video of Travis McMichael blasting Arbery at close range with a shotgun.
The men told police Travis McMichael opened fire in self-defense as Arbery threw punches and attempted to grab the shotgun. The McMichaels told police they suspected Arbery of being a thief. Arbery was unarmed when he was killed and police found no evidence he stole anything.
All three men were convicted of murder by a state court jury last November and sentenced to life in prison. They were tried again in federal court after a jury found them guilty in February of committing hate crimes. Sentencing in this case is scheduled for August.
Johnson lost her re-election bid as district attorney in November 2020 and blamed public outrage for the delay in arrests over Arbery’s death, although she denied wrongdoing.
Hours after the shooting, Johnson enlisted District Attorney George Barnhill of nearby Waycross Judicial Circuit to meet with local police the next day and advise them on the case. Prosecutors in the misconduct case said Barnhill decided after a meeting not to press charges.
Johnson waited until after that meeting to ask the Georgia attorney general’s office to appoint an outside prosecutor to oversee the case. The legal filing says Johnson called the attorney general’s office three days after Arbery’s death and said a Barnhill paralegal had already accepted the case.
“Johnson, however, did not disclose that Barnhill had previously reviewed the matter and declared it to be in self-defence,” the legal filing said. “Thus, Johnson effectively chose the outcome of the case despite a dispute.”
Barnhill eventually recused himself. On April 3, 2020, when Johnson learned that Barnhill was stepping down, there was a call from his phone to Greg McMichael, according to the court filing.
The last listed call between them was on May 5, 2020, when video of the murder was posted online. The murder trial revealed the video was leaked to a local radio station by an attorney Greg McMichael consulted.
The call consisted of Greg McMichael leaving a voicemail thanking Johnson for a recommendation, the legal filing said. He told her, “He’s going to be interfering for me right now, and that’s pretty damn good advice, and I really appreciate it.”
Greg Michael and his son were arrested for murder two days later. Bryan’s arrest followed after two weeks.