One of the ironic things about the Ahmaud Arbery case is that because of the shoddy, good-ole-boy “investigation” of his killing, the defense is busily planting doubt in the minds of the jurors.
This “investigation” was carried out by the Glynn County Police Department which has a history of corruption and questionable police tactics. The investigation of the killing of Ahmaud Arbery is just the most recent in a long list of corrupt practices.
In April 2019, Action News Jax (Jacksonville, Florida) reported that an internal investigation by the Georgia Bureau of Investigation (GBI) had uncovered misconduct within the Glynn-Brunswick Narcotics Enforcement Team. This investigation led to the unit being disbanded.
Narcotics Enforcement Teams are not disbanded without good reason, and not without an enormous amount of pressure being exerted on the law enforcement agency.
As with the Arbery case, the GBI had to be called in to “investigate after Chief of Staff Brian Scott was notified of reported inappropriate behavior involving an officer assigned to the GBNET” (the drug squad).
A report on the internal investigation included findings that Investigator James Cassada was involved in sexual relationships with two confidential informants (CIs) and had been conducting these sexual relationships since 2017. Cassandra resigned in February (2019) at the initial phase of the investigation.
Not only was Cassada having sex with his informants, he told another investigator not to pursue drug charges against his CI. One of Cassandra’s CIs told investigators that Cassada had asked her how much it would cost him to have sex with her. The CI said she and Cassandra had had sex twice in his department issued vehicle.
There were also allegations in the report that Cassada had used cocaine and methamphetamine and supplied the drugs to CIs, but there was insufficient evidence to support the claims.
The Police Department, according to the JAX reporting, announced the commander of GBNET was facing disciplinary action for his conduct. We do not know at this time whether this disciplinary action was ever carried out.
According to the JAX report:
Three officers from the GCPD came to Capt. Davis Hassler, who was commander between 2016 and 208, with information about the misconduct, but he never opened an investigation.
During the interview, Hassler denied having any knowledge of the allegations. He said if an employee had come to him with the allegations, he would have investigated them.
Hassler announced he now plans to resign and retire.
A joint investigative unit will be established in the future identified as the Brunswick-Glynn Special Investigative Unit. The unit will conduct investigations concerning narcotic crimes, prostitution, human trafficking, illegal gambling, criminal street gangs and alcoholic violations.
At the end of the JAX article about the report on the Drug Unit, this sentence appeared:
Action News Jax reached out to the District Attorney’s Office to find out how many cases could be affected. We’re still waiting on a response.
This is the DA’s office lead by Jackie Johnson who has herself now been indicted for her handling of the Ahmaud Arbery case.
“All of us have a right to be skeptical” about the trial of the men who killed Ahmaud Arbery.
The three men are on trial in huge part because of the pressure that was brought to bear on Georgia, the governor, the AG, the GBI and others to make sure that they were arrested and made these people accountable.
“They (the state) had no plan to do that until we put the pressure on them.”
King notes the appointment of an outside prosecutor (a Republican) “I believe we have an ally in the prosecution…”
Over 1000 potential jurors were called.
There are a lot of factors that strike black people from jury pools before they even get to the process of being questioned at the courthouse.
The jury pool is selected with software that is supposed to make the process more random. Note: The public has no access to that software or ability to judge the reliability and validity of that software.
African Americans are so “heavily policed, so heavily prosecuted” in Brunswick that even when Ahmaud Arbery was murdered, the system treated Ahmaud Arbery like the criminal.
Note: You can see this overpolicing in the body cam video of the police officer who questioned Ahmaud Arbery (several years ago) when he was doing nothing but sitting in his car listening to music. The officers then used the fact that Arbery felt he was being harassed (which he was), and got angry about it, as an excuse for escalating the situation. The officer escalated the situation while repeating over and over again that he wasn’t trying to escalate the situation. When this officer testified in pre-trial hearings, he wore full body gear, and tried to make it seem that Arbery had acted irrationally. I would have reacted the same way, but police would have never questioned me if I were sitting in my car listening to music.
If you are caught up in the criminal justice system you are not even in the jury pool.
Also, it is much more difficult for African Americans to commit to being on juries. They are less likely to be able to take time off work, weather the economic problems caused by being away from work and family responsibilities.
The attorneys want to select people who say they don’t have a strong opinion about the case.
“If you live in Brunswick and you don’t have a strong opinion about this case, it tells me a whole lot about you.”
Note: One of the first questions asked by Sheffield (lawyer for Travis McMichael) is whether the potential jurors have a “negative” opinion of either of the three.
“It’s going to be difficult to find somebody black, or white with any social conscience, who isn’t gravely concerned about this case.”
Note: Again, Sheffield, for the defense attorneys, asks the jurors if they have supported “in any way” the social justice movement. This is an extraordinarily broad question. It implies that “the social justice movement” is a unified, single movement. It also covers so many different issues and movements. This reinforces King’s point. If jurors who have “in any way” supported social justice movements are stricken from the jury, who do we have left?
If the trial lawyers are only trying to find people who are ambivalent. “I’m concerned.”
Who doesn’t have an opinion about this case?
All it takes is one juror to hold out to create a hung jury.
The defense if giving jurors the Citizen’s arrest argument to hang their hats on.
Note: After all the pressure that was put on the state of Georgia after the video was released, Brian Kamp signed a law banning citizen’s arrests.
But, the Citizen’s arrest law was in effect when the three men hunted down Arbery and killed him in the street.
Even under the law, the three men were “chasing him through a neighborhood with their guns out until they exhausted Ahmaud and then they murdered him.”
I’ve spent a week and a half grumbling and grinding my teeth about the jury selection in the Ahmaud Arbery case.
Defense attorneys in this case wanted to shield the questioning of the jurors from the public entirely. The judge, in what is called a “compromise” ruling, allowed two reporters at the time to listen in on individual questioning of potential jurors and take “notes.” There is no transcript that is released to the public and as far as I know the general public is not allowed to sit in the courtroom and listen. *
Jurors are being called in 20 at the time. First they are asked general questions by the Judge, the state prosecutor and each of the three defense teams. Then, jurors are moved to another room and individual jurors are questioned out of hearing of the other jurors.
It is this last part of jury selection that the judge decided to shield from the public and only allow reporters (two at the time) to sit in and listen to.
These reporters supposedly release their notes not to the general public, but to other journalists. So, what we the public have been left with every day are a few quotes from the potential jurors and some demographic information, that a couple of reporters think are important.
This is completely unhelpful for those of us in the public who feel we have a Constitutional right to observe pubic trials, especially ones this important and controversial.
As Shaun King notes in “The Breakdown” podcast, (10/18/21) there are a lot of reasons to worry about the jury selection process, especially in a state like Georgia in a rural area like Glynn County.
As King notes, blacks are eliminated from the jury pool before we ever get to a trial. For various reasons (such as involvement with the criminal justice system) many are not included on voter roles at all and therefore don’t appear on the lists of people who can serve as potential jurors.
Compound this with the questions defense attorneys are being allowed to ask potential jurors (Do you support the Black Lives Movement in any way?) and anyone with a brain would be concerned with black jurors (or even white jurors who have a social justice consciousness) who will make it onto the jury.
The questions about supporting (in any way) the Black Lives Movement, or what defense attorneys are calling the “social justice movement” have been allowed by the judge, again in what is being called a “compromise.” Jurors are not being asked if they voted for Trump or support Trump “in any way.”
And, remember these are questions that are being asked in the general questioning. We know about them. We do no know the questions nor the answers being allowed in the individual juror questioning.
Trials are public for a reason. Democracy works when the public can oversee the workings of government and the court system. We aren’t supposed to have secret trials in this country, but if jury selection can be conducted in secret, jury selection one of the most important parts of any trial, then the public can’t perform an oversight function.
In fact, the jurors in this trial are being treated as if they are flowers that might wilt and die at any moment. The media keeps talking about preserving their “anonymity.” We aren’t supposed to have anonymous jurors.
In the little town where I grew up, people were called for jury duty and were questioned. They answered supposedly as truthfully as they could. If they were embarrassed about their answers, they were embarrassed and needed to do some thinking about why they were embarrassed. Other members of the community were allowed to think badly about them for their answers. Members of the community had a right not to shop at their stores, or hire them for jobs depending on their answers. This is what it is like to participate in a community. If people are that embarrassed about their views then they damn well better think about asking themselves why.
People, citizens in a democratic society should be willing to stand up and say what they believe and take the consequences. That is what being a member of the community is about. We are a community, not a collection of secretive, units, obsessed with keeping our opinions and attitudes hidden from others. This is absurd.
But, the officials running this trial seem to think that jurors are fragile flowers who must be protected from giving an “unpopular” (not to say unjust) verdict. Defense attorneys have moved to have the few people outside the court every day removed across the street in a “First Amendment Free” zone. Folks, give me a break here, the United States is a “First Amendment Free” zone, not some parking lot designated as such by the Glynn County Sheriff’s office.
(Don’t get me started on Glynn County.)
To add to the problems caused by almost completely excluding the public from the jury questioning, for the past two days, the microphones in the court room have been turned down so low that even most of the general questioning cannot be understood. For the past two days of jury selection when the judge or the attorneys turn their heads a fraction of an inch to the left or right, or look down, there is unintelligible sound. No phone calls to the Clerk of the Court have been returned.
It might be useful to remember here that these three men are being tried by a county system that tried to cover up the killing of Ahmaud Arbery. A Glynn County police officer went to Mr. Arbery’s home and told his mother that he had been killed in the process of a burglary (in the middle of the afternoon). There were no arrests for two months after the killing and those only occurred because one of the perpetrators was stupid enough to think that releasing the video of the killing would help him. The GBI only took the case away from the County after this video went viral and the state of Georgia looked so racist and corrupt that they were shamed into taking the case away from Glynn County.
A few other facts you might want to remember when considering that Glynn County is trying these men:
The County DA in charge when the killing took place was such a close friend of one of the men (Gregory McMichaels) that he phoned her at the scene and told her (on a first name basis) that he needed advice.
The Glynn County Police Department did not make any arrests at the scene.
First responders (from the GlynnCounty Police) did not even offer assistance or try to see if Arbery was still alive when they first arrived.
Officers repeatedly reassured the assailants that everything was alright and that they (the officers) could “only imagine” the terrible situation the men had faced.
The DA (jackie Johnson, for whom Greg McMichaels had worked) recused herself and immediately phoned another DA and had him offer an opinion about the shooting to the police.
This DA (George Barnhill, Sr.) told the Glynn County police that no arrests were necessary since the men had acted in self defense.
Then when the case was taken over by the GBI, Barnhill, Sr. was given the case. Johnson did not tell the state attorney (who appointed Barnhill) that she had talked to Barnhill or that he had issued a letter absolving the men of responsibility.
Johnson has denied recommending Barnhill, Sr. to the office of the State Attorney.
Evidently when Barnhill, Sr. took the case, he also did not tell the state attorney that he had issued the letter.
The Glynn County Police Department has a history of corruption and brutality.
Their Drugs Unit was disbanded, the police chief was removed and indicted. They also killed a young woman in a hail of bullets because she did not immediately stop her car when they ordered her to do so.
The Glynn County Police continued to employ a man who was actively stalking a former partner and bragging about it to other officers.
This officer went to the former partner’s home, murdered her and her friend and then killed himself.
This is just what I know and I don’t keep close track of the goings on in Glynn County.
A new police chief has just been hired by the Glynn County Police who lied on his application for the job.
Members of the Glynn County Commission (voted out of office recently) prevented the citizens of Glynn County from even having the opportunity to vote on whether to disband the Glynn County Police.
One of the Commissioners who was central in preventing this vote from taking place was quoted in the media as saying “That’s not how it works.”
No, that’s not how it works. Citizens of Glynn County aren’t allowed to control their own police department.
The trial of the men who killed Ahmaud Arbery hasn’t even started yet and I am furious, incensed, disgusted by the way in which the trial is being handled by the Judge, Glynn County and the media.
*Phone calls to the Glynn County Clerk of the Court to complain about the microphone levels have not been returned.
On a Sunday afternoon, February 23, 2020, a retired police investigator, Greg McMichael, 64, sees a young black man, Ahmaud Arbery, 25, jogging down the street past McMichael’s house. As it has been described, McMichael goes on “high alert.” He calls out to his son Travis McMichael who also lives in the neighborhood, grabs his 357 Magnum and runs to his white pick up truck. Travis McMichael grabs a 12-gage shotgun and jumps into the driver’s seat.
Arbery is jogging down the street with no cell phone, no weapon, wearing jogging clothes.
The two men, the McMichaels, later claimed that they were on high alert because they recognized the young man. They (with amazing rapidity) formed a self-appointed posse to hunt the young man down.
Ahmaud Arbery was a jogger. He had jogged in the Satilla Shores neighborhood before. In fact, this was part of the reason the two men (joined by another) pursued him. The McMichaels claimed that Arbery had been observed on video tape, entering a house in the area which was under construction.
The owner of the house under construction had set up the video equipment and had also viewed the tapes. Nothing he saw on the tapes alarmed him. There was a curious white couple who entered the house, a group of white young people who carted off pieces of wood. Arbery has also been filmed wandering around the house and leaving without disturbing anything. The owner didn’t call 911. He didn’t even notify the authorities.
But, evidently, there was a buzz in the neighborhood about trespassers. I would be willing to bet my bottom dollar this buzz wasn’t about the white couple, or the white kids who stole from the site. It was about a young black man daring to act like any number of other people fulfilling their curiosity about the new construction.
This is the kind of “buzz” that leads to two white men arming themselves in a matter of minutes and hunting down a young black man on the street. This is the kind of “buzz” that gins up hyper vigilance for men who see themselves as protectors of white privilege. It makes them feel special, like heros, like warriors. They love it.
And, they thought they were perfectly justified in arming themselves, jumping into a truck and pursuing another human being, cutting off his escape and murdering him in the street.
On a Sunday afternoon, February 23, 2020, Ahmaud Arbery jogged through a neighborhood in Glynn County, Georgia. He had jogged in the neighborhood before.
But, this jog ended with a retired police investigator and his son, Greg and Travis McMichaels, jumping into their pick up truck and pursuing Arbery. They shot Arbery in the street and killed him.
For nearly three months, the police, prosecutors, and press DID NOTHING. Only when a video of the killing surfaced on social media was national attention focused on the case and the total lack of action about the murder.
Another man in the Satilla shores neighborhood phoned 911 about Arbery jogging. After a few seconds, the caller said: “He’s running now” referring to Arbery. The 911 operator asked: “What is he doing?” Then, she asked: “I just need to know what he was doing wrong.”
Every citizen of this country needs to listen to the podcast about the murder of Ahmaud Arbery based on an investigation conducted by members of Emory University.
Dereck Chauvin put his knee on the neck of George Floyd, stared into the camera and dared us to do anything about it.
Donald Trump did exactly what Chauvin did – he put his knee on the neck of democracy, decency, legality. He stared into the camera and dared us to do anything about it.
Putin has done exactly what Chauvin did – he has put his knee on the neck of Navalny, stared into the camera and dared us to do anything about it.
These are lessons, authoritarian lessons. They are demonstrating to us that that they can do whatever they want. They can even murder one of us right in front of our very eyes and we can’t do a damn thing about it.
We have won tonight, in the Chauvin case. We have won because of the mobilization of millions of people putting pressure on the system to live up to its ideals. We have won because of the courage and discipline of a group of witnesses. We have won and we can win again.
We must stand together and stand up to the boot of authoritarian rule on our necks. We stopped them with the Chauvin verdict. That’s why the legal system avoids jury trials if at all possible, especially for powerful defendants. We can, and we must stop them again. We must demand that the participants in the corrupt crime spree that was the Trump administration are held to account. We must demand that dangerous men like Putin and the oligarchs that surround him are held to account.
If we do not see, truly see that these actions are preparations for authoritarianism, they will come back for us. They are obviously not phased in the least by the electoral defeat in 2020. The tidal wave of voter suppression being orchestrated by the Republicans is just another way to take power because they cannot win it legitimately. It is their way back in power. We must take them seriously or we will find ourselves in 2022 and 2024 with another authoritarian take-over of the governmental process. If we flirt with that possibility, we may never recover.
That look you saw on Chavin’s face when he was kneeling there, crushing the life out of a man, is the same look you would see on the face of Bill Barr, Donald Trump, Jared Kushner, Roger Stone, Steve Bannon, Pompeo, Pence, Steven Miller, Manafort and many others while they crushed the life out of anyone who opposed them if they thought for one minute they could get away with it. If we let them get away with it, they will crush the life out of democracy and our lives will be unalterably changed. If we don’t take them seriously, if we don’t fight them we will find ourselves living under that knee being given the same compassion and respect Dereck Chavin gave George Floyd.
If you only have time to listen to one podcast, I would suggest The Majority Report. Sam Seder consistently chooses material that is challenging and different from anything you will hear on the corporate media.
Sam hosts USC Law Professor Jody Armour (@niggatheory) to discuss his new book N*gga Theory: Race, Language, Unequal Justice, and the Law and the importance of eradicating anti-black bias in America. The class distinction masquerading as a moral distinction in black respectability politics. The destructive impact of these ideas on the fight for racial justice, particularly with regard to police and prisons. How Obama represents the limits of respectability politics. The need for our criminal justice system to move away from retribution and towards restoration and rehabilitation, even in cases of interpersonal violence.