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Exposing The Rot In A Georgia Town

May 10, 2020

The must-read newspaper article from this weekend.


Ahmaud Arbery.

When the Glynn County Police Department arrived at the scene of a fatal shooting in February in southeastern Georgia, officers encountered a former colleague with the victim’s blood on his hands.

They took down his version of events and let him and his adult son, who had fired the shots, go home.

Later that day, Wanda Cooper, the mother of the 25-year-old victim, Ahmaud Arbery, received a call from a police investigator. She recounted later that the investigator said her son had been involved in a burglary and was killed by “the homeowner,” an inaccurate version of what had happened.

More than two months after that fatal confrontation, the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, which took over the case this week, arrested the former officer, Gregory McMichael, and his son, Travis McMichael, on charges of murder and aggravated assault.

The charges — which came after the release of a graphic video showing the killing as the two white men confront Mr. Arbery, who was African-American — made clear the depths of the local department’s bungling of the case, which was just the latest in a series of troubling episodes involving its officers.

And it was one element of the broader potential breakdown of the justice system in South Georgia. Attorney General Chris Carr, through a spokeswoman, said on Friday that he planned to start a review of all of the relevant players in that system.

Mr. Carr’s office has already determined that George E. Barnhill, a district attorney who was assigned the case in February but recused himself late last month, should have never taken it on. Among his many conflicts: His son once worked alongside one of the suspects at the local prosecutor’s office.

S. Lee Merritt, a lawyer representing Mr. Arbery’s family, has called for a federal civil rights investigation focused not only on the men who pursued Mr. Arbery, but the broader justice system.

“It’s small-town America,” Mr. Merritt said in an interview on Thursday. “Those counties, the law enforcement community there they know each other well, they recycle officers in between themselves — it’s a very tight-knit community.”

Over the years, Glynn County police officers have been accused of covering up allegations of misconduct, tampering with a crime scene, interfering in an investigation of a police shooting and retaliating against fellow officers who cooperated with outside investigators.

The police chief was indicted days after Mr. Arbery’s killing on charges related to an alleged cover-up of an officer’s sexual relationship with an informant. The chief, John Powell, had been hired to clean up the department, which the Glynn County manager described last fall as suffering from poor training, outdated policies and “a culture of cronyism.”

The Glynn County force was the sort of department where disciplinary records went missing and where evidence room standards were not maintained, leading the state to strip it of its accreditation.

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