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Ahmaud Arbery's mother files civil lawsuit one year after his death alleging "cover up" by prosecutors and police

Justice for Ahmaud
Justice for Ahmaud 41:50

The mother of Ahmaud Arbery, the 25-year-old Black man who was pursued and fatally shot last year while jogging through a Georgia neighborhood, filed a lawsuit on Tuesday alleging an attempt by police and prosecutors to "cover up" her son's murder. The suit comes exactly one year after Arbery was allegedly cornered and shot by a group of civilian men.

On February 23, 2020, Arbery was jogging through a Brunswick neighborhood when he stopped at a construction site for a drink of water or to rest, the complaint said. As he continued his run, he was then allegedly pursued and then cornered by Gregory McMichael and his son Travis, who are both White. A third man, William Bryan, is also accused of boxing Arbery in with his truck before Travis shot him three times.

More than two months after Arbery's death, the McMichaels were arrested and charged with murder and aggravated assault. The McMichaels told police they were acting in self-defense and believed Arbery was a burglary suspect. Bryan, who was charged with felony murder and criminal attempt to commit false imprisonment, has maintained he was only a witness to the shooting. 

The civil complaint details the alleged illegal actions that took place before and after Arbery's death. According to the complaint, after receiving several calls from the construction site's owner about trespassing on the property, Glynn County police "deputized" the McMichaels, Bryan, and one other man to act as law enforcement officials in regards to the site. As a result, police allegedly began passing the owner's complaints on to the men and instructed the owner of the site to call Gregory McMichael "day or night" with trespassing concerns. 

The complaint claims the alleged deputization of the three men led to them feeling emboldened to pursue Arbery on February 23 without waiting for law enforcement to intervene.

Ahmaud Arbery
Ahmaud Arbery is seen in an undated photo.

"Defendants Gregory McMichael and Travis McMichael armed themselves to carry out duties they had been entrusted with by the Glynn County Police Department in response to recent trespasses at the Construction Lot," the complaint alleged. "Defendants Gregory McMichael and Travis McMichael had been authorized and encouraged to take such law enforcement action..." 

An attorney representing the McMichaels in the criminal case said any allegations of deputization would be "irrelevant" in that case, adding that the pair were justified in their actions due to statutes governing the detainment of felony suspects and defense in the face of danger. 

The complaint further alleges that a Glynn County police cover up began "the moment" law enforcement arrived on the scene of Arbery's death. Despite seeing Arbery's bleeding body on the ground, the complaint said, police did not arrest any of the men.

"The Glynn County Police Department failed to make arrests at the scene of the murder because it had encouraged and ratified Defendants Gregory McMichael, Travis McMichael, and Bryan's illegal and unconstitutional conduct," the complaint alleged. 

An attorney representing Bryan told CBS News, "The filing of the civil lawsuit, seeking money damages 'in excess of a million dollars' was not unexpected. … The civil suit, like the criminal case, will show that Mr. Bryan acted within the law."

Glynn County's police chief did not immediately respond to a request for comment. 

Furthermore, the complaint claims that Brunswick District Attorney Jackie Johnson moved to shield the men from charges due to her relationship with Gregory McMichael. McMichael, who was previously a police officer, had also worked as an investigator in Johnson's office for the entirety of her tenure until he retired in 2019, the complaint said. 

According to the complaint, Johnson declined to charge the men, and knowing she would have to recuse herself from the case due to her relationship with McMichael, worked to assign the case to another district attorney who would be sympathetic, District Attorney George Barnhill. 

"Defendant Johnson handpicked Defendant Ware County District Attorney George Barnhill to take over the investigation, knowing that he too had a personal connection to Defendant Gregory McMichael and with the understanding that he would continue to not pursue charges despite the overwhelming evidence," the complaint said.

Barnhill, who is accused of telling detectives the incident was "justifiable homicide" and making repeated false statements about the case, also had to recuse himself because his son had previously "worked closely" with McMichael, the complaint said. 

L-R: Gregory McMichael, his son Travis McMichael, and William "Roddie" Bryan were charged with murder in the shooting death of Ahmaud Arbery in Brunswick, Georgia. Glynn County Detention Center via AP/ WJAX

On April 14, the case was then assigned to another district attorney, who did not take any action until May 5, when a video of the fatal encounter was released to the public, according to the complaint. The case was then referred to the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, which arrested the McMichaels the next day and Bryan later that month. 

Neither Johnson, who is no longer the district attorney, nor Barnhill could immediately be reached for comment. Last May, the state's attorney general opened an investigation into how Johnson and Barnhill handled the case. 

The complaint also alleges that the Glynn County Police Department has a documented history of unlawfully protecting its officers. The report cited a November 2019 memorandum from the county manager, which cited "an ongoing culture of cover-up, failure to supervise, abuse of power, and lack of accountability," and said the department did not make any changes following the memorandum to rectify the problem. 

The complaint, which names the McMichaels, Bryan, Johnson, Barnhill and Glynn County police as defendants, seeks millions in damages. 

"For nearly three months, Glynn County police officers, the chief of police, and two prosecutors conspired to hide the circumstances surrounding Ahmaud's death and to protect the men who murdered him," the complaint said. "And none of this would have been discovered but for video footage leaked to the media, which showed the horrific and brutal murder of Ahmaud." 

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