McMichael, 64, and his son Travis McMichael, 34, were arrested last week and charged with murder and aggravated assault in Arbery’s death, more than two months after the fatal shooting. Arbery’s family says the 25-year-old black man was out for a jog when he was chased by the McMichaels, who are white and were armed.
Gregory McMichael told police they believed Arbery was involved in local burglaries. A video shows a man who is believed to be Arbery entering a house under construction moments before the shooting, though the property owner says nothing was taken.
The case, which reignited national conversations about policing and race after a video of Arbery’s death went viral, has been passed to four different prosecutors. Two recused themselves because of past professional connections with the elder McMichael, who worked for the Glynn County Police Department and the Brunswick Judicial Circuit, both of which have jurisdiction over the neighborhood where Arbery was killed.
One of those prosecutors, George E. Barnhill of the Waycross Judicial Circuit, took an unusual step while recusing himself, writing a letter to the local police department arguing that the McMichaels’ actions were lawful under Georgia’s citizen’s arrest and self-defense statutes because they thought Arbery was a burglary suspect.
Before Barnhill’s recusal, Jackie Johnson, district attorney for the Brunswick Judicial Circuit, recused herself in February because McMichael had been an investigator in her office from 1995 through 2019.
Two Glynn County commissioners have said that Johnson’s office told police investigators to refrain from arresting the McMichaels in the hours after Arbery was killed, an allegation Johnson has denied.
Gregory McMichael’s personnel documents provide an incomplete account of his employment history with Glynn County, but they indicate that he was stripped of his powers to arrest people on at least two occasions: once beginning in January 2006 — because of an undisclosed infraction the previous year — and again in February 2019, when the Georgia Peace Officer Standards and Training Council (POST) issued a suspension order for “failure to maintain training for the year 2018.”
McMichael retired in June, four months after the suspension of his law enforcement certification. He is being held at the Glynn County Detention Center, along with his son, and could not be reached for comment.
His attorneys, Frank and Laura Hogue, did not provide comment on McMichael’s personnel records. But they released a statement Thursday saying there has been “a rush to judgment” about Arbery’s death.
“The full story, to be revealed in time, will tell the truth about this case,” Frank Hogue said in a written statement.
The statement said the attorneys are planning to schedule a preliminary hearing for Gregory McMichael soon and will petition the court to set bail.
The standards and training council notified district attorney Johnson, then McMichael’s boss, that McMichael had fallen short in various types of training hours in 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009 and 2010. McMichael did not complete the mandated use-of-force and firearms training in at least three of those years, according to the records.
“This situation has been a great embarrassment to me and to Investigator McMichael,” Johnson wrote in a June 2014 letter to Mitch Jones, the Georgia POST director. “It has negatively impacted my office, and I have taken measures to ensure that it doesn’t happen again. Please accept my sincere apology.”
Johnson did not respond to numerous emails and phone calls to her office.
McMichael applied for a waiver for the missed training hours, citing numerous health issues he and his wife had suffered between 2006 and 2009.
“Again I do not offer this information as an excuse, I knew full well that I was responsible for attending the proper amount of training but failed to do so,” McMichael wrote in his waiver application to the training council. “The years 2006 through 2009 were a very difficult period in my life. I allowed the difficulty of the situation to cloud my judgment.”
McMichael’s waiver was granted in 2014, according to the county personnel records, and he was permitted to continue serving as an investigator in Johnson’s office.
But problems arose again five years later, leading to his law enforcement certification suspension in February 2019.
In a memorandum later that month, McMichael agreed to give up his badge and weapon and was reclassified as a non-sworn employee, assigned to work in the Camden County District Attorney’s office until his retirement in June 2019.
A February 2019 memo signed by McMichael and other officials in the district attorney’s office stated he “will not engage in any activity that would be construed as being law enforcement in nature.”
“To that end, Mr. McMichael will not carry a firearm or badge, nor will he operate any vehicle in the motor pool outfitted with lights, siren or police radio equipment,” the memo stated.
McMichael had been a private citizen for a year when he told police he grabbed a gun from his bedroom and jumped into a truck with his son to pursue Arbery, who was running down a residential street on Feb. 23.
Conflicting narratives have been presented of what Arbery was doing in the minutes before he was killed. Relatives say he was an avid jogger. Prosecutors said he had been trespassing in a home under construction. McMichael’s statement to police mentions previous burglaries.
Larry English, the man who owns the home under construction, said he had installed three motion-activated cameras to keep tabs on the property. On Wednesday, his attorney released a statement noting that the cameras had captured people inside the home on four or five occasions beginning in October, though nothing was ever stolen or damaged.
English received a text message from a neighbor, Diego Perez, on Feb. 11 asking if he had seen a person on the surveillance camera, according to the statement. Perez said, “Travis confronted him."
English reviewed the footage, but said he doesn’t know who is on the video, according to the statement. Perez could not immediately be reached for comment.
English said he met Travis McMichael only once, last summer when the two had a “neighborly chat about work on the property,” but English never asked him to look after his house. He met Gregory McMichael after Arbery was killed, when McMichael approached him on the property and asked about the video from the day of the killing, according to the statement.
“Mr. English did not maintain the conversation,” the statement says.
This story has been updated.