Wanda Cooper-Jones, the mother of Ahmaud Arbery, reportedly filed a federal civil lawsuit on Tuesday accusing the Glynn County Police as well as two local prosecutors of scheming to sweep the murder of her son under the rug as well as protect his alleged killers.
The lawsuit was filed a year after the 25-year-old was fatally shot while jogging outside Brunswick in Georgia. The lawsuit names her son’s three alleged killers – Gregory McMichael, 64, his son Travis McMichael, 34, and William “Roddie” Bryan, 50, as defendants, ABC News reported. The other defendants include former Glynn County District Attorney Jackie Johnson, Waycross Judicial Circuit District Attorney George Barnhill, former Glynn County Police Chief John Powell and a number of officers from the Glynn County Police Department.
The lawsuit alleges the Glynn County Police Department together with officials from the Brunswick County District Attorney’s Office conspired to present Arbery as a violent criminal in a bid to justify the actions of his three alleged killers, according to NBC News.
“There existed a vast conspiracy between law enforcement officials and agencies not only in covering up evidence to arrest Ahmaud’s killers, but also covering up evidence that would directly implicate law enforcement in the murder,” Cooper-Jones’ attorney, Lee Merritt, wrote in a statement.
Arbery was fatally shot and killed on February 23 after he was confronted by Gregory McMichael and his son, Travis, while he was jogging outside Brunswick in Georgia. The older McMichael, who is a retired cop, had told officers that they had chased Arbery in a truck after he thought Arbery looked like a suspect who had been connected to a number of burglaries in the Brunswick area. Arbery was shot three times by Travis during a scuffle after they caught up with him. Bryan, who also followed the McMichael’s in chasing down Arbery, recorded the fatal shooting.
“The cover-up of Ahmaud’s murder began the moment that uniformed Glynn Police Department personnel arrived at the crime scene,” the lawsuit states, adding that the three men were not taken into custody when police responded to the scene. The suit alleges Gregory being a retired Glynn County Police officer and his known ties with officials at the Brunswick Judicial Circuit District Attorney’s Office aided with initially absolving them of any blame in the killing, NBC News reported.
Months before the shooting, an officer with the Glynn County police named in the suit, Robert Rash, reportedly gave Gregory the green light to act in the capacity of a law enforcement officer in guarding a property that was under construction in the neighborhood. The suit alleges the McMichaels were of the notion they were carrying out their duties “on behalf and under the cover of Glynn County police.”
Days after the shooting, the suit alleges defendant Jackie Johnson – then the district attorney and long-time friend of Gregory – moved to tell officers there was “no need to arrest the McMichaels.” Gregory and Johnson were also former colleagues. Though Johnson eventually recused herself from the case, the suit states she passed it on to Waycross Judicial Circuit District Attorney George Barnhill who also allegedly continued covering the tracks of the suspects.
“Defendant Barnhill further ratified Defendants Gregory McMichael’s, Travis McMichael’s, and Bryan’s illegal and unconstitutional conduct by providing false information … stating he had ‘video of Arbery burglarizing a home immediately preceding the chase and confrontation,’” the suit states, according to NBC News.
That video in question is yet to be presented. Though surveillance video reportedly showed Arbery entering the building under construction before he was fatally shot, attorneys for his family said he was there for less than three minutes before continuing his run. They also said he neither damaged nor took anything from the property. Authorities also said it was likely Arbery entered the property in search of water.
Arbery’s death garnered a lot of national attention after the video of the incident was leaked, with people calling on authorities to investigate the case. Gregory and Travis McMichael were subsequently arrested on May 7 – almost three months after the shooting. Bryan was arrested two weeks later. The three suspects are facing charges including malice murder, felony murder, aggravated assault, false imprisonment and criminal attempt to commit false imprisonment. They’ve all pleaded not guilty to the charges and are currently being held without bail.
“If not for the video of Ahmaud’s killing being released, the Glynn County Police Department, Rash, Gregory McMichael, Travis McMichael, Bryan, Johnson, and Barnhill would have successfully conspired to deprive Ahmaud of his constitutional rights,” the lawsuit states.
Responding to the lawsuit, the attorneys for the suspects told ABC News it was expected. “The civil suit, like the criminal case, will show that Mr. Bryan acted within the law,” attorney for Bryan, Kevin Gough, said in a statement.
Travis McMichael’s attorney, Robert Rubin, also told the news outlet: “Obviously, the plaintiff lawyers are seeking a substantial sum of money from any party they think has deep pockets. I don’t expect Travis McMichael will give them the money they are seeking.”
The lawsuit is seeking $1 million in damages.