May 11, 2020

Harris Demands Independent DOJ Investigation into Ahmaud Arbery Case

WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senator Kamala D. Harris (D-CA) on Monday demanded that Attorney General William Barr launch an independent investigation into the killing of Ahmaud Arbery, and into the Glynn County District Attorney’s Office and the Glynn County Police Department’s handling of this case.

Ahmaud Arbery, a 25-year-old African American man, was fatally shot on February 23rd while jogging in Glynn County, Georgia. No arrests were made in the case until after a video showing Arbery being shot and killed appeared online on May 5th. Two days later, Gregory McMichael and his son, Travis McMichael, were arrested and charged with Arbery’s murder.

“By now, people around the country have seen video footage of Mr. Arbery’s death—a sickening depiction of an extrajudicial killing of an unarmed black man in broad daylight.  But the process for holding the McMichaels accountable has been a miscarriage of justice as well,” writes Harris.

Harris continued, “Every aspect of this case cries out for independent investigation.  This case has disturbed the nation to its core, and has further exposed the perilous reality that black people face every day.  If justice and the rule of law are to mean anything to the American people—including black people—the Justice Department must intervene immediately.  Therefore, I demand that the U.S. Department of Justice immediately launch an independent civil rights investigation into whether Mr. Arbery’s killing violated federal laws, including the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act.  I also demand an independent investigation to determine whether there has been a pattern or practice of constitutional violations at the Glynn County District Attorney’s Office or the Glynn County Police Department.”

The text of the letter is available HERE and below.

May 11, 2020 

The Honorable William P. Barr

Attorney General

U.S. Department of Justice

950 Pennsylvania Avenue NW

Washington, D.C. 20530

Dear Attorney General Barr:

Ahmaud Arbery, a 25-year-old black man, was killed while jogging in Satilla Shores, Georgia.  Last week, video footage surfaced online that showed two white men, Gregory and Travis McMichael, confronting Mr. Arbery with a shotgun and shooting him to death.  The McMichaels were finally arrested for the killing on May 8—more than two months after Mr. Arbery’s death.  This case has been a failure of justice.  The men who killed Mr. Arbery must be held accountable, and his family must receive swift justice under the law.  Today, the Civil Rights Division of the U.S. Department of Justice, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Georgia announced that they are evaluating this case to determine whether federal hate crimes charges are appropriate.  That is not enough.  I write to demand that the U.S. Department of Justice move to immediately provide the following:

  • An independent civil rights investigation into whether the McMichaels violated federal laws, including the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act.
  • An independent investigation into whether there has been a pattern or practice of constitutional violations at the Glynn County District Attorney’s Office.
  • An independent investigation into whether there has been a pattern or practice of constitutional violations at the Glynn County Police Department.

By now, people around the country have seen video footage of Mr. Arbery’s death—a sickening depiction of an extrajudicial killing of an unarmed black man in broad daylight.  But the process for holding the McMichaels accountable has been a miscarriage of justice as well. 

On the day of the shooting, the Glynn County District Attorney’s Office reportedly may have advised police officers that there was no need to arrest the McMichaels. George McMichael had worked for seven years in the Glynn County Police Department, had worked for more than 20 years as an investigator for the larger Brunswick Judicial Circuit District Attorney’s Office, and had been retired for less than a year before the shooting took place.  It was readily apparent that a conflict of interest existed, and that the local district attorney’s office should not have been handling the case.  However, the Glynn County District Attorney’s Office took the case, which prompted a series of foreseeable recusals and delays.  The second prosecutor, George Barnhill, delayed his recusal for about two months—and only recused after Mr. Arbery’s mother made note of his conflict of interest, and only after making a determination that the McMichaels were justified in the killing.  The third prosecutor, District Attorney Tom Durden, only called for charges against the McMichaels after the Georgia Bureau of Investigation concluded a 36-hour preliminary investigation into the case.  Today, a fourth prosecutor, District Attorney Joyette Holmes, has been assigned to the case.

The handling of Mr. Arbery’s case also fits within a disturbing pattern of misconduct by the Glynn County Police Department.  Over the past several years, Glynn County police officers have been accused of covering up allegations of misconduct, tampering with a crime scene, interfering with investigations into a police shooting, and retaliating against officers who cooperated with outside investigators. It is no surprise, then, that these police officers failed to arrest the McMichaels in the two months following Mr. Arbery’s death, and that the Georgia Bureau of Investigations has now taken over the case.  It is long past time for the Glynn County Police Department to be held accountable as well. 

Every aspect of this case cries out for independent investigation.  This case has disturbed the nation to its core, and has further exposed the perilous reality that black people face every day.  If justice and the rule of law are to mean anything to the American people—including black people—the Justice Department must intervene immediately.  Therefore, I demand that the U.S. Department of Justice immediately launch an independent civil rights investigation into whether Mr. Arbery’s killing violated federal laws, including the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act.  I also demand an independent investigation to determine whether there has been a pattern or practice of constitutional violations at the Glynn County District Attorney’s Office or the Glynn County Police Department.

Sincerely, 

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