Brunswick, Ga., District Attorney Jackie Johnson and the prosecutor she asked to assist in the investigation into Ahmaud Arbery’s death didn’t follow state guidelines for how prosecutors handle conflicts of interests, and in doing so helped fuel questions of fairness from the outset of the case, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports. Almost from the moment Johnson learned that one of her former investigators was involved in the fatal shooting of Arbery, she contradicted the guidance and the state’s training for how district attorneys should handle conflicts. “Once you have a conflict, the prosecutor’s office is done — no indictments, no accusations, no bonds and no finding a substitute prosecutor,” according to training offered two years ago by Attorney General Chris Carr’s office and by the Prosecuting Attorneys’ Council of Georgia.
Greg McMichael, one of the men involved in Arbery’s Feb. 23 shooting death, once worked in Johnson’s office. For that reason, she recused herself and enlisted the help of Waycross District Attorney George Barnhill. Barnhill found that neither McMichael nor his son, Travis, had committed a crime when they armed themselves and pursued Arbery. The pursuit led to a confrontation that resulted in Travis McMichael firing at Arbery. The two Georgia district attorneys are being investigated by federal and state authorities. While it’s unclear whether the prosecutors broke any laws, their actions have drawn sharp criticism from across the U.S., including from many fellow prosecutors. “The way this is supposed to work is the opposite of how they did it,” said former DeKalb County District Attorney Robert James. The state’s ethics and conflict of interests training for prosecutors says once a prosecutor’s office determines it has a conflict, it must notify the Attorney General, who assigns an outside prosecutor to handle the cases.