Georgia Supreme Court hears case arguing for Confederate monument protections

Georgia Supreme Court justices heard arguments Thursday on cases that could determine if an organization with Confederate roots must prove they would be harmed by the removal of monuments in order to sue local government officials.

The consolidated case stems from lawsuits filed by the Sons of Confederate Veterans against the Henry and Newton County commissioners, who voted to remove Confederate statues from downtown public squares in 2020.

The plaintiffs appealed to the state Supreme Court after the Court of Appeals ruled in favor of the counties, claiming the appeals court erred in holding that they must prove an individual injury to be entitled to sue. In the event that they had standing, the appeals court ruled that their claims would be barred by sovereign immunity. Until repealed in 2021, sovereign immunity law protected government officials acting in their official capacity.

According to state law, no publicly owned Confederate monument or memorial shall be moved, removed, or concealed in any way, unless the monument is displayed with ”similar prominence, honor, and visibility” at its new location.

Complaints filed July 2020, by a Newton resident and the Sons of Confederate Veterans alleged that county commissioners broke the law while voting to remove a Confederate monument from the downtown square in Covington and place it in storage.

A Confederate monument of soldier Charles T. Zachry was removed overnight in July 2020 from the downtown McDonough square. The Henry County monument is believed to have been erected by members of the Daughters of the Confederacy in about 1910.

Kyle King, an attorney representing the Confederate group, said their cases fall along the same arguments used to hold accountable public governments and agencies that violate the Open Meetings Act or Open Records Act.

King says those laws permit the Superior Courts to hear those cases and determine if civil penalties should be awarded for claims “that can be brought by the Attorney General” or “any person, firm, corporation, or other entity.”

Under this law, an organization does not need a special interest in order to have a sufficient claim about enforcement of a public duty, King said.

“Standing is certainly required if you’re challenging the constitutionality, but again, that’s not the case,” he said.

King said no matter who files the lawsuit, any damages that are assessed would have to be used for public good.

“If we were to succeed and obtain damages in the amount of what’s required to repair and replace the monuments, we can’t just pocket the money,” he said. “We have to spend that money to do what was intended to do, replace or repair the monument.”

Patrick Jaugstetter, attorney for Newton County Commission, said this is a case that raises questions whether the legal standing should be determined through a judicial or legislative process.

He noted that under the Open Meetings Act, a person can sue for civil penalty but not for damages caused by injury.

Justice Nels Peterson countered that the Open Meetings Act does not require a plaintiff to have been uniquely injured in any particular fashion.”

“And in fact, in most cases it can be very, very difficult. The only real way you could be uniquely injured is if you’re on the agenda, and you’re voted on,” Peterson said.

The violence that erupted during a 2017 Charlottesville, Virginia, demonstration in support of a Robert E. Lee statue planned for removal spurred local officials in other cities and counties to dismantle Confederate memorials. Counter efforts were put in place to block their removal.

In 2019, Georgia Republican Gov. Brian Kemp signed legislation prohibiting the dismantling and moving of publicly owned monuments without taking steps to protect them for interpretation, as part of legislation that increased fines for vandalizing public statues.

And by the summer of 2020, protests across Georgia and the nation following the murder of George Floyd prompted more people to call for the removal of Confederate memorials from public places as the monuments erected during Jim Crow were considered symbols of white supremacy and racism. Some state lawmakers have called for a statue of a Confederate general to be removed from its prominent spot on the Georgia Capitol grounds.

In Georgia, local government leaders voted to remove and relocate Confederate memorials in cities such as Athens, Decatur, Conyers and Cordele, where a new majority Black city commission voted this year to remove its statute despite concerns about whether it had legal authority.

Through court briefings, the Confederate ancestors have received support from Republican state lawmakers Rep. Bill Werkheiser of Glennville and Rep. Tommy Benton of Jefferson, who proposed making April Confederate History Month in 2017 and once called the Ku Klux Klan an organization that helped maintain law and order.

Peterson said that while the lawsuits raise other interesting questions, the only focus remains on whether there is legal standing provided under federal law.

“The Court of Appeals held there is no standing based on the federal Article Three case law,” he said. “Now I can’t fault the Court of Appeals for that because this court has been applying that case law for the last decade or two without really explaining why.”

Chief Justice David Nahmias Thursday referred to a brief filed in the case by consumer advocacy group Georgia Watch, which Nahmias said raises questions of how an attorney could litigate certain cases without personally being affected by them.

“They (say) that if the Court of Appeals is right, then all the consumer protection statutes in the state are potentially void,” Nahmias said. “And those are statutes under which you get monetary penalties and damages.”

Jaugstetter said that because the only recourse under the monument law is to recover damages, that requires someone to show how they suffered an injury. In the case of the Sons of Confederate Veterans, their not showing concrete damages but only hypothetical ones.

“Step one in any claim is there must be a breach of duty that resulted in an injury,” he said. “Step two is damages awarded to compensate for injuries. What we’re suggesting is these plaintiffs have not established an arguable breach of legal duty.”


Georgia Recorder is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Georgia Recorder maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor John McCosh for questions: info@georgiarecorder.com. Follow Georgia Recorder on Facebook and Twitter.

Georgia election board dismisses claims of ‘ballot harvesting’ in 2020 election

The Georgia State Election Board voted unanimously Tuesday to dismiss three cases based on claims of illegal “ballot harvesting” as the baseless conspiracies over the 2020 presidential election still swirl even as the 2022 election season is already well underway and setting records for early voting.

The board, comprised of three Republicans and one Democratic appointee, agreed to accept a state investigator’s recommendation to not pursue claims against three Gwinnett County residents erroneously suspected of illegally dropping off multiple absentee ballots into drop boxes. Investigators with the secretary of state’s office determined the ballots were from voters themselves and family members living in the same households.

The allegations of large numbers of people illegally depositing ballots in drop boxes set up during the 2020 presidential election has been reignited in the national spotlight with the recent release of “2000 Mules,” which attempts to use video surveillance footage and cell phone tracking data to prove rampant voter fraud contributed to the election loss of then-President Donald Trump to Democrat Joe Biden.

The information used by conservative filmmaker Dinesh D’Souza in the movie came from far right-wing organization True the Vote. On Tuesday, the State Election Board also voted to allow the state Attorney General’s Office to intervene if True the Vote doesn’t comply with subpoena requests to turn over records the group claims show a coordinated effort to rig the election.

Republican Election Board Member Matt Mashburn said that the despite the film’s inaccuracies about Georgia’s absentee voting process, the board is charged with investigating complaints like the cases on Tuesday’s agenda.

“We’ll call the balls and strikes fairly as we receive them and let the chips fall where they may, but it’s not going to be a witch hunt,” he said. “It’s going to be done soberly, and with great care by people who know what they do.”

The investigators said he was able to identify the voters using footage from cameras monitoring the boxes. Local election records verified that the ballots arrived at the county elections offices at the same time and that each went through a standard process before getting counted.

Under Georgia law, a person can mail in or drop off absentee ballots for family members, people they live with and if they are a caregiver.

And while a person can face criminal charges for illegally casting ballots, those would still be counted if they’re cast by registered voters.

One of the cases dismissed Tuesday stemmed from footage of a voter shown in the movie and on TV shows, such as Tucker Carlson Tonight on Fox News, whose personal information has been posted online and who has become a target of harassment.

Sara Tindall Ghazal, a Democratic election board member, said that the movie’s claims of widespread voting fraud have been discredited. She pointed out that Georgia Bureau of Investigations Director Vic Reynolds said that True the Vote’s cell phone data alone is not enough evidence to validate the harvesting claims.

The results of President Joe Biden’s 2020 win were confirmed through three counts, including one by hand, in what Raffensperger called the most secure election in the state’s history. Both the GBI and FBI denounced widespread rumors of illegal ballot counting, harvesting of votes, and rigging of voting machines. Former President Donald Trump’s own attorney general said he found no evidence of widespread fraud.

“I’m deeply concerned that the individuals who are pushing these false narratives for their own purposes are enabling inflammatory rhetoric that risks conflict,” she said. “But I also have a deep belief that Georgia voters will come together across the political spectrum to reject efforts to dox and intimidate innocent voters and hardworking poll workers who are simply doing their jobs.”

Among the residents making public comments Tuesday, included members of VoterGa, whose founder is one of the plaintiffs in a lawsuit seeking to prove fraudulent votes by inspecting Fulton County’s original 147,000 absentee ballots from the 2020 election.

The meeting became testy at times as businessman David Cross, who has helped analyze Fulton ballot records for the plaintiffs, complained that he wasn’t notified by the secretary of state’s office or election board that complaints he filed would be on Tuesday’s agenda.

“The lack of communication here is astonishing and it’s embarrassing,” Cross said. “We, the citizens, have been asked to believe that this was the most secure and I won’t even finish the sentence. Why? Because there are so many errors, incomplete and missing documents. And even the staunchest advocates wonder if the results were the results at all?”

True the Vote has resisted a State Election Board subpoena for the evidence the Texas-based group says it has to prove its claims of misconduct in the 2020 election. Secretary of state attorney Ryan Germany said attorneys from both sides are working toward resolution, and a confidentiality agreement to protect a whistleblower to mitigate personal safety concerns raised by the organization.

Republican Board Member Edward Lindsey said it’s important that the state conduct its own investigation to determine if there are any merits to serious allegations.

“I believe it is incumbent upon us and the attorney general to pursue those allegations,” he said.


Georgia Recorder is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Georgia Recorder maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor John McCosh for questions: info@georgiarecorder.com. Follow Georgia Recorder on Facebook and Twitter.

Glitches raise eyebrows in record-setting Georgia early voting

Camden County voter Beth Miller received error messages several times last week when she tried to pull up a sample Democratic ballot on the Georgia Secretary of State’s official website.
Many Georgians, from the coastal county of Camden to the largest counties in metro Atlanta to Muscogee County, reported trouble viewing Democratic, Republican, or Independent sample ballots before going to cast their votes early for the May 24 primary.

Miller contacted local party representatives and election officials to notify them of the problem that continued to frustrate voters through the end of the first week of early voting in state party primaries.

“This is obviously inequitable access, and significantly affects my ability to vote knowledgeably and effectively as a Democrat,” she wrote in an email. “ A prior review of ballots across ALL ballots (not just those currently in power) must be given in a democracy.”

Monday marked the start of the second of three weeks of early voting period that is on track to be record breaking for a midterm election.

Heading into Monday, 180,620 people had cast their ballots in the primary, with 103,275 Republican ballots outpacing the Democrats with slightly under 79,000, or 57% to 42%.

The overall voter turnout though the first week of this year’s primary is 236% higher than the same period for 2018’s primary, according to Georgiavotes.com.

The new deadline for requesting an absentee ballot is 11 days before Election Day as Georgia’s 2021 election overhaul takes effect. So, the last day to request one is Friday, while the actual ballots must be in by 7 p.m. on May 24 when precincts are scheduled to close.

Georgia’s Republican turnout is largely driven so far by hotly contested primary races for the U.S. Senate pitting University of Georgia football legend Herschel Walker against state Agricultural Commissioner Gary Black and Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp who is facing a tough primary against ex-Sen. David Perdue. However, other factors come into play during primary season, according to Charles Bullock, political science professor at the University of Georgia.

“Particularly, the (GOP) governorship is high profile and that helps drive it where on the Democratic side with Stacey Abrams, there’s no opposition,” Bullock said.

A portion of the high GOP voter turnout could be driven by Democrats who cross over from their traditional political party loyalty to try to sway the more high-profile elections on the other side.

“If there’s not anything on Democratic side that you care about then you might get a Republican ballot if that’s where the action is,” Bullock said.

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Georgia’s incumbent Republican Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger is also getting a spirited challenge from sitting GOP Congressman Jody Hice, in large part due to the incumbent’s refusal to illegally overturn Georgia’s 2020 presidential election win for President Joe Biden. A county grand jury is investigating the former president’s attempt to interfere with the 2020 election tally.

Sample ballots offer people a chance to see Democratic, Republican or Independent ballots and Gabriel Sterling, chief operating officer for the secretary of state, responded on Twitter that an online notice informs people that they need to disable their pop-up blockers in order to access their sample ballot options.

County election officials from across the state also worked to resolve inaccurate ballots assigned to thousands of voters in the wake of new redistricting maps. In Chatham County, four voters cast ballots in the wrong state House districts before local officials recognized the mistake while Fulton County Commissioner Marvin Arrington Jr.’s name was missing from his own ballot due to an error.

The Cobb County Courier reported on Friday that a mother and daughter notified poll workers after they realized that a cityhood referendum was not on their ballots despite their legitimate residency within the proposed city limits.

Poll workers came up with a workaround to pull up the correct ballots.

There have been delays in Raffensperger’s plans to add new bells and whistles to Georgia’s election operations in time for the May primary by launching a new voter registration system that would reduce long lines.

And some county election officials reported working through hiccups along the way, including a statewide outage on Thursday morning that briefly derailed the 2013 system that remains in place through the primary. Still, the state is counting a record turnout of early voters participating in a midterm election and election officials are encouraging voters to check the state’s My Voter Page before heading to the polls.

Bullock said redistricting-related confusion is common whenever new political boundaries are drawn every 10 years to adapt to new U.S. census figures. Last time around, a Georgia state House election had to be rerun twice because voters were placed in the wrong district.

“Especially as the Legislature went about evening out the populations, if they split a precinct then it would get a lot harder for local election officials,” Bullock said. “They’ve got to make sure that they have a proper legal description and know which street to go down and how to draw new voting lines.”

Georgia Recorder is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Georgia Recorder maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor John McCosh for questions: info@georgiarecorder.com. Follow Georgia Recorder on Facebook and Twitter.

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Georgia’s Record Setting Early Voting Process Experiences Challenges www.youtube.com


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Georgia setting records for early voting as lawsuits challenging elections play on

A record number of Georgians are casting ballots through the first days of early voting for the midterm elections, while in the background legal challenges to the state’s voting process continue to play out in court.

On Monday 27,474 people cast in-person ballots across Georgia, a primary first-day record that was followed on Tuesday with another 32,000-plus people voting in races that will determine the nominees for governor, U.S. Senate, congressional districts, secretary of state and other tests of the state’s budding battleground status.

By comparison, on Monday alone, three times the number of Georgians cast early, in-person ballots as they did on the first day of the 2018 primary and double the amount from the June 2020 primary election, according to the Secretary of State’s Office.

Early voting began with reports of thousands of residents from Fulton, DeKalb and Cobb counties among voters receiving incorrect ballots, which election officials in DeKalb said was caused by a discrepancy between the precinct map approved as part of redistricting by the General Assembly and a county commission district on the secretary of state’s website.

Republican Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger said Wednesday that voting was running smoothly and that the high turnout further disproves claims by liberal activists like Democratic gubernatorial frontrunner Stacey Abrams that the state’s election overhaul of 2021 suppresses minority voters.

“There’s plenty of other days for early voting and things are going smoothly now,” Raffensperger said at a news conference outside the Richard B. Russell Federal Building in downtown Atlanta. “It looks like we’re going to have a record year for voter participation and that’s a good thing.”

In addition to the early voting being under way, Abrams’ Fair Fight organization is fighting Raffensperger and the state over its exact match policy used to verify voter registration applications with information from the Department of Driver Services. Over the last several weeks the trial for the 2018 lawsuit challenging the state’s election process has been playing out in l.

And in another case challenging the credibility of Georgia’s election process, the Georgia Court of Appeals heard arguments Wednesday from attorneys representing a group of voters who are asking for up-close review of Fulton’s 147,000 absentee ballots from the 2020 presidential election.

VoterGa.org’s founder and Fulton County resident Garland Favorito, one of the plaintiffs, filed the appeal after a judge in October dismissed the lawsuit after a report by the secretary of state cleared away their claims that counterfeit ballots were cast in the Nov. 3 election.

Meanwhile, the most recent lawsuit challenging Georgia’s election system was filed Monday by advocacy groups against the State Elections Board over the state’s new requirement that voters sign absentee ballot applications with a pen.

In the lawsuit, Vote.org, Georgia Alliance for Retired Americans and Priorities USA are asking the U.S. District Court judges to strike down the “wet” ink signature rule established last year by the State Election Board.

Under the new rule, voters must sign the application in ink and have the option of uploading a scanned PDF of their completed application ballot and submitting it to their election office.

“This bizarre rule will certainly result in many Georgia seniors not being able to vote at all,” said Richard Fiesta, executive director of the Alliance for Retired Americans. “Elected officials should make it easier for people to cast a ballot, not create unconstitutional schemes to suppress the vote.”

Raffensperger said Wednesday that he looks forward to proving why an absentee ballot request should require a person to sign with a pen.

“We believe that the appropriate rule as a General Assembly put into state law is that you have a big signature to verify that this is your application,” Raffensperger said. “We intend to meet (attorney Marc Elias) and beat him in a court of law.”

The primary election is the first statewide test since the election overhaul implemented by Republican lawmakers in spring 2020 that reshaped absentee voting with new ID requirements, shortened deadlines and for the first time requiring every county to offer drop boxes for mail in ballots while also adding strict restrictions on their availability.

The new law also reduced some of the powers of the secretary of state, allowed the state to temporarily takeover local election boards deemed to be underperforming and expanded the number of early voting days.

Legal experts have predicted that the majority of eight other federal election lawsuits, including one filed by the U.S. Department of Justice, face a tough road after the U.S. Supreme Court ruling last year placed a significantly higher burden on proving discrimination under Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

Georgia Recorder is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Georgia Recorder maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor John McCosh for questions: info@georgiarecorder.com. Follow Georgia Recorder on Facebook and Twitter.

And we’re off! Georgia’s 2022 early voting season starts with sky-high stakes

Early voting officially kicks off Monday for the 2022 midterm elections with sky-high stakes freighted with the never-ending relitigation of the 2020 presidential election.
Over the next several weeks Georgians will cast ballots for the May 24 primaries that will determine the Republican and Democratic nominees for governor, U.S. Senate, congressional districts, secretary of state and other tests of the state’s budding battleground status.

The primary is the first statewide election since the election overhaul implemented by Republican lawmakers in spring 2020 that reshaped absentee voting, set new deadlines when provisional ballots can be cast, added an extra Saturday of early voting, and gave the state power to take over local election boards deemed to be underperforming.

Over the coming months, progressive voting rights groups are poised to closely monitor the effects of changes they charge are suppressing Black voters and other marginalized groups who helped secure Georgia’s two Senate seats and Joe Biden’s narrow Georgia win over Donald Trump for president.

Voting rights organizations are increasing their effort to educate the public about the voting law and resources like ones offered by a coalition of 100 organizations that allow voters who have questions or problems to report them at 866-OUR-VOTE.

Even with the efforts some say make it harder to vote, Common Cause Georgia Executive Director Aunna Dennis said there’s a strong counter effort to ensure every eligible voter can cast a ballot.

“But the anti-voter legislation that’s been pushed through our legislature means that it will be harder for some voters to vote this year,” she said in a statement. “So it’s more important than ever for Georgia voters to make a plan to vote – and maybe make a backup plan, too.”

This year’s party primaries feature a heated race between Republican Gov. Brian Kemp and former U.S. Sen. David Perdue and a crowded U.S. senate field led by former University of Georgia football great Herchel Walker trying to break out of the pack to take on Democratic Sen. Raphael Warnock on Nov. 8.

And as people head to the polls, the most important push from voting rights champions is for Georgians to vote early and inform their coworkers, families, and others about the new rules and to check on their status, said Jamil Favors, a co-founder of Atlanta-based nonprofit Power the Vote.

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As a result of the new law, the deadline for requesting and submitting absentee ballots is shorter and drop boxes will no longer be available around the clock but only during early voting hours.

Under the new law, Republicans officials trumpeted a plan to replace a comparatively subjective signature match for absentee ballots with a more objective driver’s license, other state ID or requiring a photocopy of a utility bill, bank statement or government check to verify identity.

“That’s going to significantly affect many individuals who may not have that license or may not have a photocopier to take a copy of their utility bill,” Favors said. “And these things may seem small, but they’re really small cuts that are deep cuts to truly keep people away from the ballot box.”

Georgians will also have more difficulty requesting an absentee via an online portal under the new law since they will need a signed document in order to apply.

Georgian officials with the secretary of state’s office counter 97% of eligible voters already have a government ID.

It is proving difficult for many election supervisors in Georgia to find enough poll workers after the pandemic led to the older ones opting out. Meanwhile, threats to poll workers grew across Georgia in the wake of discredited claims by Trump and his allies of a fraudulent election.

The new voting law isn’t factoring into the struggles of Cobb County in hiring enough staff for an election, where Election Director Janine Eveler expects a strong turnout to settle the many contested races.

But how those votes are cast should be different from 2020’s presidential preference primary when a record 1.1 million absentee ballots were cast across Georgia.

“Absentee voting will not be as popular as in 2020. More people are comfortable voting in person now and absentee voting is much harder than before with more restrictive deadlines,” Eveler said.

As a result of the new law, provisional ballots cast at a wrong polling place before 5 p.m. on Election Day will not be counted. The proponents of this change say it will give voters a chance to vote on all the candidates on the ballot. But others say it will make it more confusing for poll workers and will leave thousands of people without enough time to cast their votes.

“I think part of the problem with this law in particular is just how unnecessarily complex a rule that changes at five o’clock on Election Day is,” said Saira Amir Draper, a co-founder of Power the Vote and a Democratic candidate for state House District 90.

In 2020, the deadline to apply for a mail-in ballot was three days before the election, but now voters must request the ballot 11 days before the election, which means the deadline is May 13 for the primaries.

The most significant new election measure this year was signed into law last week by Gov. Brian Kemp, which will grant the Georgia Bureau of Investigation new powers to initial election investigations beginning on July 1.

While a large number of groups, including presumptive governor candidate Democrat Stacey Abrams, founder of the New Georgia Project, and former Republican U.S. Sen. Kelly Loeffler’s Greater Georgia, are pushing to get more voters registered, the largest driving force in signing up new voters – the automatic registration process through the Department of Driver Service – had its percentage fall by half over the last year.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported that when the agency shut off automatic voter registration after a design of its website, registrations decreased from 35,000 in February 2020 to less than 6,000 in the month the following year.

Draper, who is also a former director of the Democratic Party of Georgia’s voter protection division, said that drop should have sounded off alarms within state agencies workers that the system was flawed.

What to know heading into the May 24 primary

Georgians can view their registration status, update their contact information, and more at the secretary of state’s My Voter Page. Voters who have problems with the website can confirm their poll location by contacting their county elections office.

Monday: Early voting begins with polls open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.

May 7 and 14: Saturday early voting.

May 13: Deadline to submit application for absentee ballot.

May 20: Last day of early voting.

May 24: Election Day. Polls open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.

Georgia Recorder is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Georgia Recorder maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor John McCosh for questions: info@georgiarecorder.com. Follow Georgia Recorder on Facebook and Twitter.

Exit of prominent, veteran state lawmakers creates brain drain at Georgia Legislature

The Georgia Legislature needs to replace a wealth of knowledge in coming years following the announced departure of the chief House budget writer, the lawmaker who controls which Senate bills receive a vote, the widely admired “dean” of the House, a GOP public education maverick and others who long carried their party’s standard.

The revolving door in the Gold Dome will continue this election season with at least several dozen seats up for grabs in 2022 in which no incumbents or former legislators are in the running, a number about in line with the previous election when 14% of the class of 236 lawmakers were freshmen. About 50 of this year’s 236 legislative races don’t feature an incumbent.

When you account for retirements, a large crop of legislators seeking higher office and redistricting, it’s leading to not only fresh faces joining legislature, but also what portends to be some significant turnover and loss of experience when the new session arrives in January.

Longtime Georgia political observer Charles Bullock said that as some legislators spend more time in office and reach more powerful positions, there becomes a breaking point where the investment it takes for what’s essentially a full time job for part-time pay gets old.

“Whatever they do to earn a living and doing this legislature gets to a point where, ‘I need to get to make politics full time,’” said the University of Georgia political science professor. ‘And I can do that by getting elected to Congress – or to one of the state constitutional officers or I just gotta get out of here. I can’t continue to invest as much time as I am here for $17,000 a year.’”

This year’s brain drain also includes legislators credited with an ability to work successfully across the political divide. And multiple lawmakers who’ve spent 10 or more years representing their Georgia districts are making way for new blood.

One of the most significant losses of institutional knowledge comes from the retirement of Rep. Terry England, an Auburn Republican who was the point man overseeing Georgia’s budget through both lean and flush times as the chairman of the House Appropriations Committee. During his watch, the state rebuilt its reserve fund from depleted to more than $3 billion.

England cited some of the toxicity in today’s political discourse as a reason for him stepping down after entering office in 2005.

England’s resignation comes a year after the death of Sen. Jack Hill, the former senate budget chairman with whom England worked closely. Over the years England and Hill frequently urged caution against rolling back income taxes, a politically popular proposal which he warned would drain the state’s rainy day fund.

Seeking to fill England House District 116 seat is Republican Bruce Bennington who works in the aviation industry, and current Democratic Rep. Holly El-Mahdi, who now falls under the new boundary lines following state-level redistricting last fall.

Meanwhile, after spending the last 48 years representing Columbus inside the state Capitol and becoming the first Black legislator to serves as Rules Committee chairman and governor’s floor leader, Democratic Rep. Calvin Smyre is bidding farewell as he awaits confirmation of his appointment by President Joe Biden as U.S. ambassador to the Dominican Republic.

The longest serving member of the Legislature, Smyre has long been credited by Democrats and Republicans as a bipartisan broker for negotiations on legislation. Smyre was also a driving force behind the state’s passage of a hate crimes law and repeal of the citizens’ arrest law.

House Minority Leader James Beverly, a Macon Democrat, said losing Smyre would deal a severe blow to a party that will also have to replace about 20 of its 77 sitting state lawmakers.

Other departures in state Democrats’ leadership positions include Rep. Erica Thomas, who is her party’s caucus vice-chair, and East Point Rep. William Boddie, who has served in caucus leadership. After six years in the House, Boddie is running for labor commissioner

“They’re going to bring all kinds of ideology and what they bring from the district and they’re going to have a new type of energy about what’s important to them so that they’re ready to hit the ground running from day one, but that’s a big jump,” Beverly said.

In March, powerful Senate Rules Chair Sen. Jeff Mullis, a Chickamauga Republican, announced he would not run for re-election after 22 years in the Senate. In his farewell speech, the Senate’s gatekeeper of legislation, whose shrewd tactics have either helped or hindered other legislators’ efforts, talked about how much he’ll miss the gamesmanship.

Bullock said a great deal of institutional memory is leaving the Legislature and also valuable expertise of members who have chaired committees, meaning another adjustment for those people accustomed to their leadership styles.

“There’s a lot of uncertainty trying to anticipate what this new chair is likely to do with the issues,” he said. “It’s also time for some juniors and younger legislators to step up and see if they’re up to the jobs that they’re going to be given.”

One of those vacuums is left by Cobb County Republican Sen. Lindsey Tippins, whose retirement means a loss of a GOP public school champion, a chairman of the Senate’s Higher Education and Youth Committee and an ex-chair of the Youth and Education Committee. Tippins often criticized the Republican push for private school vouchers, stating that he was not a believer that diverting money away from underperforming public schools would solve K-12 education problems. It was often a lonely position to defend.

Along with the retirements away from elected office, both Democrats and Republican parties are also losing other key voices and caucus leaders who are seeking higher office.

Among those are Senate Pro Tempore Butch Miller, who is wants voters to give him a promotion from second-in-command in the Senate to make him the GOP’s candidate for lieutenant governor.

Other Republican senators leaving incumbency behind to run for higher office include Sen. Burt Jones, who is also seeking the office of lieutenant governor; Sen. Tyler Harper, who is running for the job of agricultural commissioner after 10 years in the senate; and Sen. Bruce Thompson, a four-term senator from White who wants to be Georgia’s next state labor commissioner.

Senate Majority Leader Mike Dugan, a Carrollton Republican, said his party is facing some significant departures, as are Democrats from his chamber with Sens. Jen Jordan, Lester Jackson and Michelle Au moving on. Dugan said those three state senators passionately represented their districts even though he disagrees with them on many issues.

“Any time nine of 56 Senators leave there are going to be gaps stemming from a lack of experience and procedural knowledge,” the Carrollton Republican said. “I feel it is fair to say that, regardless of how each of us determine is the best way for the state to move forward, we all genuinely care about and have great respect for one another. These losses will be emotional for sure.

“But, and there is always a but, each of us will only serve a finite amount of time,” Dugan said. “We will come in and do the best we possibly can and then hand the position to another highly skilled person to continue the effort.”

The 2022 legislative session was dominated at times by culture war battles that included proposals sweeping GOP-controlled states like banning school books some deem offensive, and transgender youth participation in athletics. A bipartisan mental health overhaul was briefly hijacked by right-wing extremists peddling conspiracy theories about government overreach.

In the wake of the fallout from the 2020 presidential election, election law remained a contentious issue as the battle over access to the ballot box transitioned into who has the authority to run investigations and security procedures poll workers must follow.

After 16 years, LaGrange Republican Rep. Randy Nix, whom House Speaker David Ralston has referred to as a spiritual advisor, is stepping down. The Ethics Committee Chairman often railed against efforts to expand gambling as proposals gained more support in the last couple of years before fizzling out. And after two decades, a key figure in promoting medical cannabis legalization in Georgia, Rep. Micah Gravley, a Douglasville Republican, is not seeking a six-term.

Meanwhile, Jordan’s seat will be filled as she runs to become the Democratic nominee to challenge Republican Attorney General Chris Carr. In addition to serving as an authoritative and fervent voice for Democrats in the chamber, the two-term senator and attorney also held the rare position of a minority party committee chair, leading the chamber’s special judiciary committee.

Bullock said whichever party best positions itself with new voices ready to push their platforms could spell more success down the road. But losing those best at delivering messages about guns or education could be tough to quickly replace.

“Maybe some viewpoints are not articulated,” he said. “You may have people who don’t have the verbal skills or the expertise to make certain points.”


Georgia Recorder is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Georgia Recorder maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor John McCosh for questions: info@georgiarecorder.com. Follow Georgia Recorder on Facebook and Twitter.

Efforts to criminalize homelessness persist in Georgia

Gainesville’s prolific chicken processing facilities contribute to a low unemployment rate in the northeast Georgia community.

But with many factory workers unable to afford rent and other bills, the Hall County city is also a microcosm of the homelessness crisis in Georgia and throughout the nation.

When resources dry up and affordable housing becomes harder to pay for with working-class jobs, government leaders and organizations grapple with policies that criminalize the homeless for sleeping under bridges or setting up camp in public spaces. Compounding the problem are a shortage of resources that are available for housing and mental and substance abuse treatment for long-term issues, a problem that worsened during the pandemic.

Gainesville’s small neighboring city 10 miles to the north, Lula, added criminal penalties aimed at people experiencing homelessness at its city council meeting Monday night by banning so-called urban camping. People who violate the ordinance could be fined up to $1,000 and be jailed for up to six months for camping in parks, roads, or bridges, a strategy critics say further criminalizes homelessness without working to fix the root causes.

Lula, home to about 3,000 people, is officially dealing with homelessness for the first time after locals complained of an increase in panhandling, public drunkenness, and people sleeping on public property.

Lula City Manager Dennis Bergin said the ordinance aims to address concerns about transient people while the city also works with social services organizations and churches to provide support for people experiencing homelessness.

“In fairness, it’s not one piece of a puzzle, It’s probably several and I think that’s the best way that the council has recognized to deal with it,” Bergin said prior to Monday’s meeting.

Since 2019, estimates show the homeless population around Hall and Gainesville skyrocketing six-fold.

Hall, with its miles of Lake Lanier shoreline, has a mix of well-off residents paired with a strong business community, but offset by an extremely poor population. That’s especially true in Gainesville, with a large number of Hispanic immigrants and Black population, according to Joshua Silavent, an advocate who works closely with organizations that help the homeless.

In addition to the redevelopment around Gainesville’s downtown and midtown, new zoning laws led to the shuttering of several homeless shelters and missions, he said.

Shooing away the encampments and throwing people in jail is not a good way to deal with homelessness, Silavent said.

“In a city that markets and prides itself on the availability of jobs, on the working class base, the diversity of our community, the city and county government as well as businesses have taken (few) meaningful approaches to addressing the issue of affordable housing,” Silavent said.

Through the end of 2022, a special state legislative committee is tasked with studying solutions for dealing with homeless encampments after the sponsor of controversial legislation scrapped a measure that initially called for state misdemeanor offenses for camping on public property and denying cities state grants for not enforcing the law.

Sen. Carden Summers said he decided to sponsor Senate Bill 535 after doing his own windshield survey around inner Atlanta and saw all of the makeshift tents set up by the homeless.

The bill was modeled by Texas-based think tank Cicero Institute as a way to encourage cities and counties to create government-sanctioned encampments like parking lots, which proponents say offer a safer and more sanitary place to stay.

Similar style developments have been set up in San Francisco and in Phoenix, Arizona, where the rapidly growing camping grounds that accommodate more than 1,000 people experiencing homelessness have become more difficult to manage.

Critics of those plans say local communities are better suited to determine any designated sites for camps or other facilities.

Advocates for the unsheltered warn cutting off state funding from a city that has a higher per capita homeless population where local law enforcement is not enforcing existing ordinances could have long-term ramifications.

“Our fear is that this is really more of a dog and pony show where they create or they give this purview to the state properties commission,” Silavent said.

Ultimately, objections to his bill led Summers to call for a committee to gather input from advocacy groups, government leaders, and others before making a recommendation on whether to proceed with his bill. The 2022 legislation died before the end of the just-completed session, so any revival would need to be reintroduced in 2023 or later.

Meanwhile, Hall and some other areas of Georgia are working to alleviate homelessness at the local level. A new partnership in Hall will help to get people their Social Security cards, ID cards, and other information needed to get a job and access other assistance.

Also, the Hall County Commission recently committed federal stimulus funds to renovate a shelter, while outreach continues to push plans for warming-centers, camping areas, and tiny house villages for the unsheltered.

And in cities like Lula, city officials like Bergin expressing a desire to work with the advocacy organizations is a positive, Silavent said.

Homelessness rises since 2016

Figures are inexact on how many people are homeless. However, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development estimates that in January 2020, Georgia’s homeless population was 10,234.

For the first time since national data collection began in 2010, in 2020 there were more unsheltered people living on the streets or in cars than in shelters or other temporary housing, with families and children particularly affected.

This year, a federal agency plans to release a strategy to end homelessness. The plan will be developed by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Interagency Council on Homelessness, which after launching in 2010, saw homelessness decline nearly 10% overall and 30% among families before stalling in 2016.

“Not everyone agrees about the solutions, but we all recognize the problems and have the same goal: to prevent and end homelessness by providing people with safe and affordable housing, and the support needed to sustain that housing,” the council says on its website about the upcoming report.

In Macon-Bibb County, the collaboration among agencies includes organizations like Daybreak Resource Center, which provides showers, laundry and breakfast, case manager and a medical clinic while the Salvation Army provides an overnight shelter and rehabilitation services and the county in 2021 opened a warming shelter.

But more resources must be dedicated to more than just housing. Making a significant dent in chronic homelessness will involve significant community resources dealing with untreated mental illness, homeless advocacy experts said.

The director of Daybreak, Sister Theresa Sullivan, said that long-term supportive case management will better keep roofs over heads and people employed, rather than plans that force them to find another place outside to sleep or risk going to jail.

“You can close down encampments but you’re really just moving the problem,” Sullivan said. “Our people are nomadic and they’re pretty skillful so if we do not address the housing, if we do not address the mental illness and the care, you are just going to move the problem around.

“And we have seen that here where we’ve closed one site, they moved to another and the challenges that they provide at one site are now the challenges in another,” Sullivan said.

In late-March, Athens-Clarke County opened an encampment outside of a former school after partnering with a local nonprofit to carry out the project.

Mayor Kelly Girtz said local officials aim for Athens-Clarke County to become a statewide model with a crisis response team that combines police officers with mental and behavioral health specialists.

They are also working with a homeless coalition on developing plans for case management and housing, efforts that will complement the additional funds spearheaded by Republican state House Speaker David Ralston and Democratic U.S. Sen. Raphael Warnock.

“I am heartened that after years in which Athens was the only homeless service provider between Atlanta and Greenville, that Gwinnett County has opened bed space for unsheltered persons this year, and other neighboring counties have shown similar interest, as they recognize the stress felt by family members in their own jurisdictions,” Girtz said in his March 21 state of the county address.


Georgia Recorder is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Georgia Recorder maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor John McCosh for questions: info@georgiarecorder.com. Follow Georgia Recorder on Facebook and Twitter.

Ahmaud Arbery’s mother relieved by killers' guilty verdict -- but expresses anger at DOJ

Soon after a federal jury returned guilty verdicts Tuesday in the hate crimes trial of three white men who killed Ahmaud Arbery, his mother vented against the federal prosecutors who offered a plea deal as much as she expressed relief about the trial’s outcome.

Arbery’s mother, Wanda Cooper-Jones, thanked supporters around Brunswick and across the country for backing the family’s fight for justice after the convictions of Greg and Travis McMichael and William “Roddie” Bryan for murder in the shooting death of the unarmed Arbery on a Brunswick-area street on Feb. 23, 2020.

The McMichaels will now be held fully responsible for targeting her son because he is Black after a judge agreed with the family’s objections to a plea deal negotiated between the prosecutors for the U.S. Department of Justice and defense attorneys.

After they received life sentences in state court in January for murdering Arbery, the McMichaels would have served their first 30 years of prison time in the federal prison system instead of a Georgia prison under their Jan. 31 plea agreement.

READ: Trouble in Trumpworld as Pastor Darrell Scott goes after Candice Owens over Ahmaud Arbery verdict

“I’m very thankful that you brought these charges of hate crimes but back on Jan. 31, you guys accepted a plea deal with these three murderers who took my son’s life,” Cooper-Jones said outside the U.S. District Courthouse in Brunswick.

“Even after the family stood before the judge and asked the judge to not take this plea deal, the lead prosecutor Tara Lyons asked the judge to ignore the family’s cry,” she said. “That’s not justice for Ahmaud. What we got today we wouldn’t have gotten if it was for the fight the family put up on Jan. 31.

“I, as a mom, will never heal,” Cooper-Jones said. “I told the justice department attorneys that they were prosecutors but one thing they didn’t have was a son lying in a cold grave.”

At a press conference, U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland said that it is hard to comprehend the suffering the Arbery family experienced with the hate-fueled violence that led to Arbery’s death.

“I cannot imagine the pain that a mother feels to have her son run down and then gunned down while taking a jog on a public street,” said a visibly shaken Garland. “My heart goes out to her and to the family. That’s really all I can say about this.”

The McMichaels and Bryan have 14 days to appeal their convictions on counts of attempted kidnapping, interference with rights, and carrying, brandishing and using a firearm during a violent crime.

U.S. District Court Judge Lisa Godbey Wood, who rejected the plea terms, could hand down life sentences to the three men following a trial where prosecutors successfully argued that the defendants’ history of using racial slurs against Black people was the primary reason they pursued Arbery.

Historically speaking, a federal hate crime charge has rarely been prosecuted and often it’s challenging to prove motivation was due to bias based against a victim’s race, ethnicity, sexuality, or other characteristics.

Former Gwinnett County District Attorney Danny Porter said the court-appointed defense attorneys had a difficult job trying to argue that the men didn’t pursue Arbery because he was Black while acknowledging the defendants’ history of text messages, social media posts and conversations using the N-word, referring to Black people as savages and other racial slurs.

“Oftentimes criminals’ motives are mixed so I think the prosecution in this case, really did a good job of laying out a history on all three of their parts,” Porter said.

“I’m not saying this is the first hate crime that’s ever been prosecuted by the federal government, but it’s one of a few,” Porter said. “And I think it might help prosecutors realize that these cases can be successfully prosecuted.”

Chad Posick, criminal justice and criminology professor at Georgia Southern University, said because the judge declined the negotiated 30-year pleas, it’s likely the McMichaels and Bryan will get longer prison terms in the near future.

The case’s significance is tied to race in the deep South, a landmark federal hate crimes conviction, an archaic citizen’s arrest law, and the horrific imagery of Black man chased and killed by white men. Ultimately, the hate crimes conviction shows the impact of social media platforms and text messages and how spreading hateful things can come back to haunt, Posick said.

“There’s no law that says, ‘You can’t say those things on their own,’” Posick said. “They’re not criminal but they were used to substantiate that state of mind in a hate crimes case. Hopefully, people will see that and realize it’s serious to say these things and harbor this type of animus.”

Legacy of Arbery’s death

On a Sunday morning in 2020, the McMichaels grabbed their firearms and got into a pickup truck to chase Arbery, who they say they suspected of committing burglaries in their Satilla Shores neighborhood.

Investigators, however, testified that Arbery did not break any laws when he entered a home that was under construction, noting also that white people caught on surveillance video had done the same thing without consequence. But the McMichaels were spurred to vigilantism by Arbery’s presence.

Bryan, who authorities say attempted to run Arbery into a ditch multiple times after joining in the pursuit in his black pickup truck, recorded a viral video that spurred widespread national outrage and eventually the arrests of the three men.

The final moments of Arbery’s life came as he tried to fight off Travis McMichael, a shotgun-wielding man who fired three shots, after he tried to run away from the McMichaels and Bryan for five minutes.

After the damning video became public, Gov. Brian Kemp and state Attorney General Chris Carr announced that the Georgia Bureau of Investigation would take over the case, Local district attorneys declined for weeks after the killing to make arrests, citing self-defense and citizen’s arrest laws.

Former Brunswick Judicial Circuit District Attorney Jackie Lee Johnson now faces federal charges for allegedly showing “favor and affection” to suspect Greg McMicheal, a former Glynn County police officer and investigator for the district attorney’s office.

Arbery’s death also spurred enough Republican state legislative support to pass a historic hate crimes law in June 2020.

A year later, legislators passed a bipartisan bill repealing the Civil War-era citizen’s arrest law that allowed people outside of law enforcement to detain someone they suspect of committing serious crimes.

If the 2020 state hate crimes law were on the books when Arbery was killed, the defendants charged in Arbery’s death could have been tried by prosecutors in order to add onto the sentencing following the murder convictions and other underlying offenses.

On Tuesday, Kemp released a statement saying the trial was “another necessary step toward justice in case this shocked many across our state and nation, my family included.”

“We continue to pray for Arbery’s family that they may find peace and healing after today’s verdict and remain committed to keeping Georgia a safe, hate-free place for all to call home.”

Georgia Recorder is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Georgia Recorder maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor John McCosh for questions: info@georgiarecorder.com. Follow Georgia Recorder on Facebook and Twitter.

Prosecutors in federal hate crimes trial say Arbery's killers had history of racist slurs

The three men facing federal hate crimes charges in the death of Ahmaud Arbery will have to overcome a jury’s reactions to racial slurs in text messages and conversations as evidence that the murderers were motivated by race when they gunned down the 25-year-old Black man on a Brunswick-area street on Feb. 23, 2020.

Tuesday marked the second day of testimony in the Brunswick U.S. District courtroom where father and son, Greg and Travis McMichael and their neighbor William “Roddie” Bryan are set to have a jury decide their fate for the second time in months.

Federal prosecutor Bobbi Bernstein opened the trial this week arguing the deadly confrontation was sparked by the defendants’ disgust at the sight of a Black jogger they suspected of committing a crime in their Satillas Shores neighborhood.

On Tuesday, Georgia Bureau of Investigation special agent in charge Richard Dial described the older McMichael’s tone as “jovial” while describing the moments that led up to him climbing in his son’s pickup truck to chase after Arbery, who was unarmed. While Arbery was lying dead in the street, Greg McMichael called Arbery an a**hole who had been frequently breaking into places in the neighborhood, Dial said.

Investigators say there were no reports of home burglaries in the year leading up to Arbery’s killing and that even though white people were also captured on video at the same home under construction, Arbery became the McMichaels’ prime target.

Chad Posick, criminal justice and criminology professor at Georgia Southern University, said in an interview to expect federal prosecutors to present the defendant’s racially charged statements to match up with their actions on the day Arbery was murdered. Defense attorneys minimized Arbery’s race as a factor in the pursuit of Arbery through Satilla Shores during the state trial last year.

“Now prosecutors have to really get into what they were thinking, their mindset, where their hearts are at,” Posick said. “If you look at the (hate crimes) research, it’s much more challenging to prove that.

“In federal trials like this, it’s not about establishing guilt on whether or not they did it,” Posick said. “One of the defense attorneys said you don’t have to like my client, we acknowledge that he said things that are derogatory to people of color but that’s not why he pursued Ahmaud.”

As part of the prosecution’s case, Travis McMichael was hammered for writing racial epithets in text messages and Bryan told a GBI agent that Travis McMichael used a racial slur moments after killing Arbery.

The elder McMichael was accused of saying Black people cause trouble in a 2015 conversation. And Bryan, who joined midway through the chase in his truck and shot a video that sparked widespread outrage, had jurors hear of a text message where he used the N-word when expressing his disappointment in who his daughter was dating.

After a state jury made up of 11 white people and one black person found the men guilty of murdering Arbery in November, a superior court judge sentenced the McMichaels to life without parole and Bryan to life with some possibility of parole.

In the federal case, the jury includes three Black members and a Hispanic person. During the federal jury selection, a much larger pool of candidates was assembled from a 28-county region instead of only from Glynn County to hear the murder trial.

“Obviously the jury is much different this time around, they were much more intentional in making sure it was diverse so on appeal someone can’t go back and say this was not representative,” Posick said.

The McMichaels tried to avoid the federal trial through a deal with the prosecution, but they withdrew their guilty plea after a judge rejected the terms following the Abery’s family’s passionate requests for the judge to do so.

Posick said it’s unusual for a judge to reject a plea deal, but also noteworthy in such a high-profile case. It does come with the risk that if the defendants aren’t found guilty of committing hate crimes, there’s a remote chance their state sentences could be reduced under appeal.

“Generally, when there is a plea, attorneys will make sure it’s something that the judge would take in consideration and approve,” he said. “I think (rejection) is pretty uncommon, but I think it goes to the importance of the case and having race tried in front of a jury of peers and in front of the nation.”


Georgia Recorder is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Georgia Recorder maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor John McCosh for questions: info@georgiarecorder.com. Follow Georgia Recorder on Facebook and Twitter.

Prosecutors in federal hate crimes trial say Ahmaud Arbery’s killers had a history of racist slurs

The three men facing federal hate crimes charges in the death of Ahmaud Arbery will have to overcome a jury’s reactions to racial slurs in text messages and conversations as evidence that the murderers were motivated by race when they gunned down the 25-year-old Black man on a Brunswick-area street on Feb. 23, 2020.
Tuesday marked the second day of testimony in the Brunswick U.S. District courtroom where father and son, Greg and Travis McMichael and their neighbor William “Roddie” Bryan are set to have a jury decide their fate for the second time in months.

Federal prosecutor Bobbi Bernstein opened the trial this week arguing the deadly confrontation was sparked by the defendants’ disgust at the sight of a Black jogger they suspected of committing a crime in their Satillas Shores neighborhood.

On Tuesday, Georgia Bureau of Investigation special agent in charge Richard Dial described the older McMichael’s tone as “jovial” while describing the moments that led up to him climbing in his son’s pickup truck to chase after Arbery, who was unarmed. While Arbery was lying dead in the street, Greg McMichael called Arbery an a**hole who had been frequently breaking into places in the neighborhood, Dial said.

READ: ‘Gasps’ heard during Ahmaud Arbery trial as prosecution shows footage of shooting: CNN reporter

Investigators say there were no reports of home burglaries in the year leading up to Arbery’s killing and that even though white people were also captured on video at the same home under construction, Arbery became the McMichaels’ prime target.

Chad Posick, criminal justice and criminology professor at Georgia Southern University, said in an interview to expect federal prosecutors to present the defendant’s racially charged statements to match up with their actions on the day Arbery was murdered. Defense attorneys minimized Arbery’s race as a factor in the pursuit of Arbery through Satilla Shores during the state trial last year.

“Now prosecutors have to really get into what they were thinking, their mindset, where their hearts are at,” Posick said. “If you look at the (hate crimes) research, it’s much more challenging to prove that.

“In federal trials like this, it’s not about establishing guilt on whether or not they did it,” Posick said. “One of the defense attorneys said you don’t have to like my client, we acknowledge that he said things that are derogatory to people of color but that’s not why he pursued Ahmaud.”

READ: 'What's wrong with you?' Attorney shames Arbery killers' lawyers for 'horrific' closing arguments

As part of the prosecution’s case, Travis McMichael was hammered for writing racial epithets in text messages and Bryan told a GBI agent that Travis McMichael used a racial slur moments after killing Arbery.

The elder McMichael was accused of saying Black people cause trouble in a 2015 conversation. And Bryan, who joined midway through the chase in his truck and shot a video that sparked widespread outrage, had jurors hear of a text message where he used the N-word when expressing his disappointment in who his daughter was dating.

After a state jury made up of 11 white people and one black person found the men guilty of murdering Arbery in November, a superior court judge sentenced the McMichaels to life without parole and Bryan to life with some possibility of parole.

In the federal case, the jury includes three Black members and a Hispanic person. During the federal jury selection, a much larger pool of candidates was assembled from a 28-county region instead of only from Glynn County to hear the murder trial.

“Obviously the jury is much different this time around, they were much more intentional in making sure it was diverse so on appeal someone can’t go back and say this was not representative,” Posick said.

READ: Trouble in Trumpworld as Pastor Darrell Scott goes after Candice Owens over Ahmaud Arbery verdict

The McMichaels tried to avoid the federal trial through a deal with the prosecution, but they withdrew their guilty plea after a judge rejected the terms following the Abery’s family’s passionate requests for the judge to do so.

Posick said it’s unusual for a judge to reject a plea deal, but also noteworthy in such a high-profile case. It does come with the risk that if the defendants aren’t found guilty of committing hate crimes, there’s a remote chance their state sentences could be reduced under appeal.

“Generally, when there is a plea, attorneys will make sure it’s something that the judge would take in consideration and approve,” he said. “I think (rejection) is pretty uncommon, but I think it goes to the importance of the case and having race tried in front of a jury of peers and in front of the nation.”

Georgia Recorder is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Georgia Recorder maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor John McCosh for questions: info@georgiarecorder.com. Follow Georgia Recorder on Facebook and Twitter.

Powerful Georgia lawmaker aims to upend high school sports group to stop their ‘evilness’

For a one-stoplight city, Chickamauga is having an outsized influence on the politics of high school athletics in Georgia.

It is easy to explain, of course, because state Sen. Jeff Mullis, a powerful Republican from Chickamauga, is enraged at the Georgia High School Association, the governing body of high school athletics. Less than a month after the association pushed Mullis’ alma mater, Gordon Lee High School, up from Class A to Class AA, Mullis pre-filed two bills in the state Legislature aimed menacingly at the GHSA.

Mullis’ Senate Bill 328 seeks to overhaul the entire governance structure of high school athletics in the state by dismantling the association and replacing it with another governing body. It seemed a clear message. Gordon Lee was getting pushed up to Class 2A to compete against schools with higher enrollments where the Trojans will be less competitive, and Mullis was not happy about it.

Senate Bill 334, also filed by Mullis, would make public and private schools with 640 students or fewer compete in separate regions and playoffs. The association, for the first time in 10 years, voted in December to combine public and private championships in its A classification, the lowest. Gordon Lee has 428 students, according to GHSA data. Mullis wants Gordon Lee in Class A and not to have to compete with private schools for state titles.

Mullis said in January from the floor of the Senate in announcing the bills the association is “trying to protect their evilness.” Even for a politician known for his antics, it seemed hyperbolic. Mullis said he was standing up for small high schools, like Gordon Lee, and giving schools and athletes “due process” by reworking the GHSA into a fairer governing body.

Still, it seemed like a bit of gamesmanship because the chair of the gatekeeping Senate Rules Committee also said, “Sometimes you produce legislation to make a better Georgia. Sometimes you produce legislation to get people’s attention.” It was as if the bills were meant as orchestrated arm-twisting.

Mullis did not respond to two email requests asking about his reasons for filing the bills.

Potential epic consequences

Students, parents, and sports fans might not directly feel the bureaucratic reshaping of the GHSA, but SB 328 also includes language that could be epic in its consequences, especially for the smaller schools Mullis purports to defend.

That legislation carries the signatures of some other high-ranking members of Mullis’ chamber, including Senate Majority Leader Mike Dugan. It would tear down boundaries of school zones across the state and allow athletes who live in one zone to play immediately at another school. Currently, athletes must make their primary residence in a school district to play for that district’s team.

In effect, SB 328 will allow a sort of free agency in high school athletics. It is common knowledge that parents and coaches collude in Georgia with fake addresses and fake documents in order to circumvent rules and build winning teams with athletes outside their school zone, but that comes with the risk of the player and school being declared ineligible. Mullis’ legislation removes the risk.

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“It could be tragic for small schools,” said Allen Fort, the superintendent of Taliaferro County schools, who has been an educator for 47 years in the state. “It could be like what’s happening with the transfer portal in college athletics, kids transferring all over the place, to where we have two kinds of schools, winners and losers, and nothing in between.”

Dominos will start to fall, Fort said.

“What happens is a small school loses a great athlete or two to a big school and it affects the small school’s football team, in terms of wins and losses,” he said. “Fewer people come to see the small school play because they aren’t winning, which affects the school’s revenue, and for 80 to 85 percent of schools in Georgia, football is your money generator. They rely on football to fund their entire athletic program.

“Then you have the second level effects on revenue, which are concessions, maybe operated by the band. Fewer people are there to buy snacks (because the team is losing) and the band has less money. Then you have the third level of revenue, the raffle the baseball team puts on at the football game. There are fewer fans and the baseball team sells fewer raffle tickets.”

Johnny Gilbert, the head football coach at 3A Dougherty County High School, said his program is not as well-funded as bigger schools in the Albany area and his players could be targeted. Dougherty County schools have 14,479 students.

“If (SB 328) happens, it is always going to linger in the back of your mind that you could lose kids to the big schools if you don’t maintain a strong program,” Gilbert said.

And what about the “kids” in this wrangling among adults?

At Jefferson’s, a restaurant in downtown Ringgold on a recent Saturday afternoon, four Ringgold varsity baseball players were sitting around a table and were asked, “What if a 6-foot-2, 220-pound all-star shortstop suddenly left a neighboring school and enrolled at Ringgold and one of the current players lost their starting position?”

Ringgold’s shortstop Mason Parker, whose starting spot would be in jeopardy, smiled and said, “I’d compete with him, bring it on. Coach is paid to win games so he has to put the best team out there.”

Across the table, first baseman Myles Hudson said about all-stars from outside Ringgold suddenly parachuting on to the roster, “The kids here would compete against them, but the parents would be very upset. The parents supported the program as we came up. The parents wouldn’t be for it at all.”

Recruiting top high school talent

At Milton High School in 2012, parents rebelled against boys basketball coach David Boyd who was bringing in sensational players from all over metro Atlanta to the Alpharetta school. Milton won two state championships under Boyd.

The Milton parents, whose children had grown up in the Milton “feeder” program as fifth, sixth, seventh, and eighth graders, watched their kids get bumped from starting lineups and rosters in high school by talented transfers. The Milton parents had also supported the high school varsity program by donating thousands of dollars for equipment.

The Fulton County School board investigated Boyd for the recruiting violations and he resigned. But the real catalyst for Boyd leaving were the unhappy parents of students who grew up in the community and got squeezed off teams by out-of-town stars.

If SB 328 passes, young student athletes who dreamed of playing for the local school, would have to tolerate an ambitious coach, or boosters, recruiting top talent from out of district. Local taxes would be diluted. After all, students who are recruited to a school presumably would not pay taxes to the school they enter as out-of-district students.

City of Decatur taxes, which pay for a small school system (5,700 students), are frequently more than $10,000 a year per household. Many parents in Decatur have made it clear in the past their taxes are too high and classes too crowded to bring in athletes from elsewhere in metro Atlanta.

Hans Utz, who is on the Decatur Board of Education, said he cannot speak for the high school administration, but said, “if…the proposal (SB328) ends up as a mechanism for a well-funded school to poach talent from an under-funded school, leading to fewer resources, or less income for that school, then I’d be strongly opposed to it.”

This is not the first time a powerful state politician has thrown his weight around with the high school association. According to the Albany Herald, then-House speaker Tom Murphy went after the GHSA in 2000 when his daughter, a student at Bremen, said her debate team could not compete with private schools.

In 2017, the late Georgia Rep. John Meadows, who represented a northwest Georgia House district, pushed a bill to dissolve the GHSA and place it under the control of the state Board of Education. The bill forced the ouster of association executive director Gary Phillips.

Taliaferro’s Fort, who has worked at eight schools in Georgia as a teacher, administrator, and coach, said every school in the GHSA, whether they are city schools, county schools, public or private, has a chance to participate in association governance. He was on the GHSA board for six years and insisted all schools are represented.

The vote to adopt the reclassification of schools Mullis is objecting to was 64-2 in favor by the GHSA executive committee.

“The GHSA has its warts,” Fort said, “but it is not evil. Can you prove year after year, day in and day out, as to the unfairness or corruption of the Georgia High School Association? I don’t think you can.”

Georgia Recorder is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Georgia Recorder maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor John McCosh for questions: info@georgiarecorder.com. Follow Georgia Recorder on Facebook and Twitter.

BREAKING NEWS: Trump Org's longtime accountants sever ties and warn ex-president's financial statements can't be trusted

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Jury selection to start this week in federal hate crimes trial of Ahmaud Arbery killers

The federal hate crimes trial is scheduled to begin Monday for the three white men accused of harboring racial animus, which led to a chase that resulted in the killing of Ahmaud Arbery on Feb. 23, 2020.
Father and son Greg and Travis McMichael and neighbor William “Roddie” Bryan could face life sentences if convicted of hate crimes, attempted kidnapping, and murder of the 25-year-old Black man who was shot to death after being chased by pickup trucks for five minutes in a Brunswick-area neighborhood.

While the federal hate crimes case will cover many of the same details as the state case in which a jury found the three men guilty of murder in a verdict just before Thanksgiving, it will focus more intensely on whether Arbery was singled out because of the color of his skin.

University of New Haven’s Mike Lawlor, an associate professor of criminal justice, said following the state trial that the prosecution may not have filed the case if Georgia’s hate crime law had been in effect at the time.

The outrage over Arbery’s death sparked enough momentum for the Georgia Legislature to follow through on passing a hate crimes law in 2020 and in the subsequent year repealing the citizen’s arrest law that dated back to antebellum.

“You could argue that if Georgia already had a hate crimes law and if that was actually charged as part of the state prosecution, maybe the feds wouldn’t have gotten involved,” Lawlor said.

According to Georgia and federal laws, more severe punishment can be meted out for crimes motivated by a victim’s race, color, religion, national origin, sex, sexual orientation, gender, or disability.

The McMichaels tried to avoid the federal trial through a deal with the prosecution, but they withdrew their guilty plea after a judge rejected the terms following the Abery’s family passionate requests for the judge to do so. Wanda Cooper-Jones, Arbery’s mother, criticized the sentences that would have allowed both men to serve the first 30 years of their sentences in federal prison rather than a state prison.

“Ahmaud didn’t get an option of a plea,” Cooper-Jones said at last week’s plea hearing for Travis McMichael. “Ahmaud was hunted down. My son was killed.”

McMichael and Bryan are represented in the federal hate crimes trial by court-appointed lawyers. In the state trial, the McMichaels were sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole. Bryan could be granted parole after being convicted of murder for helping detain the Arbery with his pickup truck after the jogger left the construction site of an unoccupied home.

The state’s case took a turn after the public release of cell phone footage Bryan recorded of the pursuit depicting Arbey’s final moments running down a street before he was gunned down by Travis McMichael with a shotgun at close range.

Legal experts warn that Travis McMichael’s testimony from the state trial will likely be used against him by federal prosecutors. The former U.S. Coast Guard officer testified that he shot Arbery because he feared for his life and his father’s safety when Arbery grabbed his shotgun during a struggle after the chase.

Former Brunswick Judicial Circuit District Attorney Jackie Lee Johnson faces federal charges for allegedly showing favor to the suspect Greg McMicheal, who is a former Glynn police officer and investigator for the district attorney’s office.

Greg and Travis McMicheal and Bryan were arrested within weeks of the viral video that prompted Gov. Brian Kemp and state Attorney General Chris Carr to turn the case over to the Georgia Bureau of Investigation and Cobb County District Attorney’s Office.

Georgia Recorder is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Georgia Recorder maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor John McCosh for questions: info@georgiarecorder.com. Follow Georgia Recorder on Facebook and Twitter.

Trump fumes as Fulton County investigation heats up: 'I didn’t say anything wrong'

Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis is asking a special grand jury to hear evidence of former President Donald Trump’s attempts to overturn the 2020 Georgia election election results.

Willis’ request is for Fulton County superior court judges to allow the panel to be put in place on May 2 to determine if the former president and or his allies committed criminal offenses in the Georgia election that Trump lost to Democrat Joe Biden by fewer than 12,000 votes.

Willis opened the investigation in February 2021 following a Jan. 2 phone in which Trump asked the secretary of state and other election officials to “find” enough votes to change the outcome of the election.

“The district attorneys office has received information indicating a reasonable probability that the state of Georgia’s administration of elections in 2020 including the state election of the president of the United States was subject to possible criminal disruptions,” Willis wrote in a Thursday letter to the chief judge of Fulton County Superior Court.

“Our office has learned that individuals associated with these disruptions have contacted other agencies in power to investigate this matter, including the Georgia Secretary of State, the Georgia Attorney General and the United States Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of Georgia, leaving this office as the sole agency with jurisdiction that is not a potential witness to conduct related to this matter.”

A majority of the Fulton Superior Court judges must agree to appoint the special grand jury, which Willis said would allow her to subpoena witnesses who have not cooperated with the investigation and give her more time to present her case.

Willis wrote in the letter that a special grand jury is better suited to handle complex matters since it focuses on one case for as long as 12 months and doesn’t handle multiple cases over a two-month period like a regular grand jury.

Clark Cunningham, a professor at Georgia State College of Law, said Watergate set the stage for a criminal investigation into the actions of a president, with the U.S. Supreme Court ordering the release of tapes that led to burglary convictions and Richard Nixon’s resignation.

As a district attorney, Willis would have more power than with Trump’s impeachment investigation or with the Congressional committee digging into the former president’s role in the deadly Jan. 6 U.S. Capitol breach.

“The fact that this is being done by a special grand jury, convened by a criminal prosecutor, is going to give a priority to this investigation that quite possibly even Congress will not have,” Clark said.

“(Fulton prosecutors) might find someone they feel like they have a very strong case against, indict them and then attempt to negotiate with that person to take cooperation,” he said. “So the first indictment is not going to be against Donald Trump, I don’t think, but it may be against someone who in the view of the grand jury has criminal liability but also has important and useful information.”

Danny Porter, former longtime Gwinnett County district attorney, said it’s helpful for prosecutors that a special grand jury can meet much more often than a regular grand jury.

Although a special grand jury cannot issue indictments, it can recommend them if they find enough probable cause for prosecution, he said.

“She knows what she’s doing,” Porter said. “She’s given herself enough time to present the evidence at a reasonable pace. The other thing she’s doing is she is trying to get where citizens have heard the case and made a recommendation rather than rashly rush to a grand jury and drop indictments.”

Then-President Trump’s request on the call was directed at Republican Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, who declined Trump’s request, and stated on Thursday that his office is cooperating with the Fulton prosecutor’s requests and would testify if subpoenaed.

Willis wrote that Raffensperger has refused to provide evidence or to be interviewed without being subpoenaed.

In February, Willis sent letters to Raffensperger, Gov. Brian Kemp, Attorney General Chris Carr and Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan asking them to preserve documents and other evidence that might reveal election fraud, false statements, conspiracy theories, racketeering and other violations.

“Obviously she’s been slow-walking this,” Raffensperger said during an interview on Fox News. “She’s been in office for over a year now and now she’s just finally getting to this point. I think she’s just trying to score some cheap political points with her Democrat friends.”

Trump said in statement Thursday that his conversation with Raffensperger was “a perfect call” that doesn’t warrant any further investigation.

“Although I assumed the call may have been inappropriately, and perhaps illegally, recorded, I was not informed of that,” Trump said. “I didn’t say anything wrong in the call, made while I was president on behalf of the United States of America, to look into the massive voter fraud which took place in Georgia.”

It is legal to record a call in Georgia as long as one party knows it’s being recorded.

In the aftermath of the Nov. 3 general election, Trump and his allies repeated baseless fraud accusations and conspiracy theories even after Raffensperger and U.S. Attorney General Bill Barr said they found no evidence of widespread fraud. Several recounts and audits confirmed Biden’s win while the majority of lawsuits challenging the validity of the results have been dismissed or pulled by the plaintiffs.

The former U.S. attorney in Atlanta, Byung “BJay” Pak, said he quit after hearing rumors Trump was considering firing him due to his refusal to overturn the election results.

In the event Willis moves forward with the Trump investigation, Porter believes she will handle it like other cases despite the national attention it’s receiving.

“This is a case that’s going to garner a lot of scrutiny and a lot of attention and already has,” he said. “And if Trump goes by any of his previous history, there’s going to be an army of lawyers and I suspect he’s not going to surrender meekly.”

Trump is also facing more legal scrutiny with a request for a New York grand jury to examine potential financial misconduct with his organization in a civil case.

Meanwhile, the Jan. 6 Congressional committee continues to subpoena witnesses to examine Trump and associates’ role in the election and rioting that followed. Wednesday, The U.S. Supreme Court allowed more than 700 documents from the presidential record to be sent to the U.S. House committee investigating the attack on the U.S. Capitol.


Georgia Recorder is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Georgia Recorder maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor John McCosh for questions: info@georgiarecorder.com. Follow Georgia Recorder on Facebook and Twitter.

IN OTHER NEWS: Trump has a senior moment on Fox News — then brags about acing a cognitive test

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Defense rests after prosecutor pokes at credibility of man who shot Ahmaud Arbery

The lead prosecutor in Travis McMichael's murder trial hammered him Thursday for contradictions and failing to take steps to avoid the deadly confrontation that ended with him shooting Ahmaud Arbery on a suburban Brunswick street in February 2020.

Cobb County Assistant District Attorney Linda Dunikoski pointed out multiple inconsistencies between the statement Travis McMichael gave to police a couple of hours after the shooting and his courtroom testimony and also poked holes in his claims that he should skirt the murder conviction because he acted in self-defense.

Thursday marked the 10th day of testimony in the high-profile coastal Georgia trial where three white men, father and son Greg and Travis McMichael and neighbor William “Roddie" Bryan, face charges of murder, false imprisonment and aggravated assault for the death of the 25-year-old Arbery, who was Black.

Over the course of two days and hours of testimony inside the Glynn County courtroom, Travis McMichael testified that he shot Arbery out of fear for his and his father's lives after they spent five minutes chasing Arbery in a pickup truck. The chase ended with Travis McMichael firing his shotgun at Arbery three times at close range.

Dunikoski peppered Travis McMichael about the multiple opportunities for him to have stopped chasing Arbery through the defendants' Satilla Shores neighborhood and avoided the deadly confrontation.

For example, Travis McMichael could have made sure his father had called 911 before going after Arbery, they could have let him run away while by Bryan's house, or stopped at the times where they lost sight of him, she said.

The McMichaels argue they were attempting a citizen's arrest on Arbery who had been captured several times by security cameras in a neighbor's home that was under construction. They have described their response that day as a reaction to a neighborhood on edge because of property crimes.

“So you're telling this jury that a man who has spent five minutes running away from you, you're now thinking is somehow going to want to continue to engage with you – someone with a shotgun – and your father, a man, who's just said, 'Stop or I'll blow your f****** head off,' by trying to get in their truck?'" Dunikoski asked.

“Yes ma'am," Travis McMichael answered.

In another exchange, Dunikoski asked Travis McMichael why he continued to pursue Arbery after initial attempts to speak with him.

“Three times he's demonstrated to you that he does not want to talk to you, correct," she said. “He also demonstrated no threat to you, he hasn't pulled out a gun. He's not said one word to you, is not threatening you in any way, verbally or physically."

Likewise, Dunikoski questioned discrepancies between Travis McMichael's testimony, police statements, and what he told an officer after coming across Arbery outside the unoccupied home a couple of weeks earlier.

Throughout the grilling, Travis McMichael attributed his inconsistency to feeling stress after the shooting.

“I was trying to my best ability but under the circumstances of going through a traumatic event," McMichael said about speaking with police. “That was the most traumatic event that I have ever been through in my life. I've never been through a situation like that."

When speaking with an officer following the shooting, Travis McMichael never mentioned being worried about the safety of his father, a 65-year-old former Glynn County police officer and investigator with the Brunswick district attorney's office, while Greg McMichael stood in the back of a pickup truck carrying a .357 Magnum revolver, the prosecution said.

Travis McMichael said that he was under the impression that his father called 911 as they began searching for Arbery and didn't realize he was mistaken until just prior to the deadly encounter.

Travis McMichael said his intention at the end was to keep an eye on Arbery and tell the cops which direction he went until Arbery got close enough and a struggle ensued over the shotgun. Even in moments directly beforehand, the lead prosecutor argued that Travis McMichael still could have avoided the situation.

Travis McMichael also testified that he doesn't remember hearing his father threatening to kill Arbery, a comment Greg McMichael told authorities that he made.

Travis McMichael detailed what he believed was happening in conflicts between Arbery and Bryan's Chevy Silverado.

Bryan told police that four times during the pursuit he attempted to run Arbery into a ditch, but the McMichaels have denied coordinating with Bryan, who recorded the end of the chase with his cell phone.

“Do you want this jury to believe that it's Mr. Arbery who's the aggressor with the black truck?" Dunikoski said. “Not the black truck trying to run him off the road to help you?"

But Travis McMichael said he was unaware of what was occurring as Arbery appeared to be “attacking" the truck as both came into his vision.

“I didn't see the truck trying to run him off the road," he responded.

Black pastors come out in force

Hundreds of people gathered outside the Glynn County Courthouse Thursday to support the family in response to Bryan's lawyer attempting to block Black pastors from sitting with the family at the trial.

Last week defense attorney Kevin Gough asked the judge to block any more well-known Black pastors from sitting in the gallery after Rev. Al Sharpton sat in the courtroom and Gough reiterated his opposition this week as Rev. Jesse Jackson returned.

On Thursday, Gough continued to express his displeasure at the presence of the Black pastors. Gough said a person inside the courthouse uttered, 'I support Black pastors.'

“Given that the Black pastors support the conviction of our client, we would object to those kinds of slogans being outside in the foyer where witnesses are sitting," Gough said.

Sharpton and Jackson were joined at the demonstration and prayer vigil on the courthouse grounds by dozens of Black clergy and civil rights activists that included Martin Luther King III, attorney Benjamin Crump, as well as attorney Lee Merritt, who represents Arbery's mother Wanda Cooper-Jones.

At Thursday afternoon's prayer rally, Cooper-Jones said she was grateful for the outpouring of support.

“God will put people in your path to help you," she said. “You are the people for my family and I, and I want to say thank you."

A national spotlight has shone brightly on the case following the public release of Bryan's cell phone footage showing the final moments of the chase, the shotgun firing and Arbery falling to the street. The case is characterized by many as a modern-day lynching of a Black man at the hands of white men using an antebellum-era citizen's arrest law to justify their actions. State lawmakers repealed Georgia's citizen's arrest law in the 2021 legislative session.

The Georgia Bureau of Investigation took over the case in spring 2020 after the public release of footage depicting Arbery's death and within weeks the McMichaels were arrested. Bryan was arrested two weeks later.

The jury makeup has been criticized for only having one Black member where race permeates the proceedings, even as Gough declared during selection he didn't believe the case was about race.

Sharpton said Thursday that he's seen many cases that involved law enforcement officers and the courtrooms remained packed with uniformed police.

“And nobody ever says that's intimidation, or influence," he said. “So if this lawyer sets a precedent with us, then he sets a precedent that we can judge whoever's in a courtroom anywhere in the United States."

King, the son of the slain civil rights icon, said he found Gough's remarks troubling and that the McMichaels and Bryan must be held accountable. Closing arguments are set for Monday.

“For us it feels very racist to say you cannot come to a public proceeding," King said. “I'd think that a significant number of Black folks were offended by the statement he made."


Georgia Recorder is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Georgia Recorder maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor John McCosh for questions: info@georgiarecorder.com. Follow Georgia Recorder on Facebook and Twitter.

Defense rests as prosecutor hammers Travis McMichael and black pastors from across the country flock to Georgia courtroom

The lead prosecutor in Travis McMichael's murder trial hammered him Thursday for contradictions and failing to take steps to avoid the deadly confrontation that ended with him shooting Ahmaud Arbery on a suburban Brunswick street in February 2020.
Cobb County Assistant District Attorney Linda Dunikoski pointed out multiple inconsistencies between the statement Travis McMichael gave to police a couple of hours after the shooting and his courtroom testimony and also poked holes in his claims that he should skirt the murder conviction because he acted in self-defense.

Thursday marked the 10th day of testimony in the high-profile coastal Georgia trial where three white men, father and son Greg and Travis McMichael and neighbor William “Roddie" Bryan, face charges of murder, false imprisonment and aggravated assault for the death of the 25-year-old Arbery, who was Black.

Over the course of two days and hours of testimony inside the Glynn County courtroom, Travis McMichael testified that he shot Arbery out of fear for his and his father's lives after they spent five minutes chasing Arbery in a pickup truck. The chase ended with Travis McMichael firing his shotgun at Arbery three times at close range.

RELATED: Travis McMichael's pro-vigilantism posts come back to haunt him in Arbery murder trial cross-examination

Dunikoski peppered Travis McMichael about the multiple opportunities for him to have stopped chasing Arbery through the defendants' Satilla Shores neighborhood and avoided the deadly confrontation.

For example, Travis McMichael could have made sure his father had called 911 before going after Arbery, they could have let him run away while by Bryan's house, or stopped at the times where they lost sight of him, she said.

The McMichaels argue they were attempting a citizen's arrest on Arbery who had been captured several times by security cameras in a neighbor's home that was under construction. They have described their response that day as a reaction to a neighborhood on edge because of property crimes.

“So you're telling this jury that a man who has spent five minutes running away from you, you're now thinking is somehow going to want to continue to engage with you – someone with a shotgun – and your father, a man, who's just said, 'Stop or I'll blow your f****** head off,' by trying to get in their truck?'" Dunikoski asked.

RELATED: Judge deals massive blow to Ahmaud Arbery's killers — allows their Confederate plates as evidence

“Yes ma'am," Travis McMichael answered.

In another exchange, Dunikoski asked Travis McMichael why he continued to pursue Arbery after initial attempts to speak with him.

“Three times he's demonstrated to you that he does not want to talk to you, correct," she said. “He also demonstrated no threat to you, he hasn't pulled out a gun. He's not said one word to you, is not threatening you in any way, verbally or physically."

Likewise, Dunikoski questioned discrepancies between Travis McMichael's testimony, police statements, and what he told an officer after coming across Arbery outside the unoccupied home a couple of weeks earlier.

Throughout the grilling, Travis McMichael attributed his inconsistency to feeling stress after the shooting.

RELATED: 'Gasps' heard during Ahmaud Arbery trial as prosecution shows footage of shooting: CNN reporter

“I was trying to my best ability but under the circumstances of going through a traumatic event," McMichael said about speaking with police. “That was the most traumatic event that I have ever been through in my life. I've never been through a situation like that."

When speaking with an officer following the shooting, Travis McMichael never mentioned being worried about the safety of his father, a 65-year-old former Glynn County police officer and investigator with the Brunswick district attorney's office, while Greg McMichael stood in the back of a pickup truck carrying a .357 Magnum revolver, the prosecution said.

Travis McMichael said that he was under the impression that his father called 911 as they began searching for Arbery and didn't realize he was mistaken until just prior to the deadly encounter.

Travis McMichael said his intention at the end was to keep an eye on Arbery and tell the cops which direction he went until Arbery got close enough and a struggle ensued over the shotgun. Even in moments directly beforehand, the lead prosecutor argued that Travis McMichael still could have avoided the situation.

Travis McMichael also testified that he doesn't remember hearing his father threatening to kill Arbery, a comment Greg McMichael told authorities that he made.

Travis McMichael detailed what he believed was happening in conflicts between Arbery and Bryan's Chevy Silverado.

Bryan told police that four times during the pursuit he attempted to run Arbery into a ditch, but the McMichaels have denied coordinating with Bryan, who recorded the end of the chase with his cell phone.

“Do you want this jury to believe that it's Mr. Arbery who's the aggressor with the black truck?" Dunikoski said. “Not the black truck trying to run him off the road to help you?"

But Travis McMichael said he was unaware of what was occurring as Arbery appeared to be “attacking" the truck as both came into his vision.

“I didn't see the truck trying to run him off the road," he responded.

Black pastors come out in force

Hundreds of people gathered outside the Glynn County Courthouse Thursday to support the family in response to Bryan's lawyer attempting to block Black pastors from sitting with the family at the trial.

Last week defense attorney Kevin Gough asked the judge to block any more well-known Black pastors from sitting in the gallery after Rev. Al Sharpton sat in the courtroom and Gough reiterated his opposition this week as Rev. Jesse Jackson returned.

On Thursday, Gough continued to express his displeasure at the presence of the Black pastors. Gough said a person inside the courthouse uttered, 'I support Black pastors.'

“Given that the Black pastors support the conviction of our client, we would object to those kinds of slogans being outside in the foyer where witnesses are sitting," Gough said.

Sharpton and Jackson were joined at the demonstration and prayer vigil on the courthouse grounds by dozens of Black clergy and civil rights activists that included Martin Luther King III, attorney Benjamin Crump, as well as attorney Lee Merritt, who represents Arbery's mother Wanda Cooper-Jones.

At Thursday afternoon's prayer rally, Cooper-Jones said she was grateful for the outpouring of support.

“God will put people in your path to help you," she said. “You are the people for my family and I, and I want to say thank you."

A national spotlight has shone brightly on the case following the public release of Bryan's cell phone footage showing the final moments of the chase, the shotgun firing and Arbery falling to the street. The case is characterized by many as a modern-day lynching of a Black man at the hands of white men using an antebellum-era citizen's arrest law to justify their actions. State lawmakers repealed Georgia's citizen's arrest law in the 2021 legislative session.

The Georgia Bureau of Investigation took over the case in spring 2020 after the public release of footage depicting Arbery's death and within weeks the McMichaels were arrested. Bryan was arrested two weeks later.

The jury makeup has been criticized for only having one Black member where race permeates the proceedings, even as Gough declared during selection he didn't believe the case was about race.

Sharpton said Thursday that he's seen many cases that involved law enforcement officers and the courtrooms remained packed with uniformed police.

“And nobody ever says that's intimidation, or influence," he said. “So if this lawyer sets a precedent with us, then he sets a precedent that we can judge whoever's in a courtroom anywhere in the United States."

King, the son of the slain civil rights icon, said he found Gough's remarks troubling and that the McMichaels and Bryan must be held accountable. Closing arguments are set for Monday.

“For us it feels very racist to say you cannot come to a public proceeding," King said. “I'd think that a significant number of Black folks were offended by the statement he made."

Georgia Recorder is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Georgia Recorder maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor John McCosh for questions: info@georgiarecorder.com. Follow Georgia Recorder on Facebook and Twitter.