The shooting and the delay in charges — which came only after the footage went viral — have drawn strong condemnations from activists and leaders across the political spectrum, with former vice president Joe Biden comparing the incident to a lynching, President Trump calling the footage “very disturbing” and Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp (R) denouncing the slaying as “absolutely horrific.”
“We are committed to a complete and transparent review of how the Ahmaud Arbery case was handled from the outset,” Attorney General Chris Carr said in a statement Sunday as he announced his request for a federal investigation. “The family, the community and the state of Georgia deserve answers, and we will work with others in law enforcement at the state and federal level to find those answers.”
In a statement, Justice Department spokeswoman Kerri Kupec said the Civil Rights Division, the FBI and the U.S. Attorney in Georgia “have been supporting and will continue fully to support and participate in the state investigation,” and that in particular they were “assessing all of the evidence to determine whether federal hate crimes charges are appropriate.” She said Justice Department officials were “considering” Carr’s request to assess the handling of the investigation and had asked him to forward any information he uncovered.
“We will continue to assess all information, and we will take any appropriate action that is warranted by the facts and the law,” Kupec said.
S. Lee Merritt, the lawyer representing Arbery’s parents, applauded the move to further examine what he called the “potential cover-up” of a murder.
“We have requested the involvement of the DOJ since we first took this case,” Merritt wrote. “There are far too many questions about how this case was handled and why it took 74 days for two of the killers to be arrested and charged in Mr. Arbery’s death.”
The attorney general’s request of the Justice Department “includes, but is not limited to, investigation of the communications and discussions by and between the Office of the District Attorney of the Brunswick Judicial Circuit and the Office of the District Attorney of the Waycross Judicial Circuit related to this case,” a Sunday news release stated.
The Arbery case has been assigned to a series of prosecutors. First, it went to Jackie Johnson in the Brunswick Judicial Circuit, who recused herself from the case in February because Gregory McMichael was previously an investigator in her office.
Then it went to George E. Barnhill, district attorney for Georgia’s Waycross Judicial Circuit, who recused himself after Arbery’s mother complained that Barnhill’s son used to work with McMichael in the Brunswick district attorney’s office, according to documents obtained by The Washington Post.
In the letter recusing himself, Barnhill laid out an argument that the men’s actions were legal under the state’s citizen’s arrest and self-defense statutes.
Barnhill’s and Johnson’s offices could not immediately be reached for comment.
Matt Zapotosky, Michael Brice-Saddler, Colby Itkowitz and Cleve Wootson contributed to this report.