Georgia town braces for national spotlight and demonstrations as trial in Ahmaud Arbery’s death set to start

When jury selection begins Monday in the trial of three white men accused of killing Ahmaud Arbery, the Transformative Justice Coalition is expecting up to 100 people to show up in support of the Arbery family as Glynn County comes under a withering national spotlight.

The justice coalition is busing people to coastal Georgia to join a crush of out-of-towners and media outlets from across the country descending on Brunswick for the trial of three white men charged with murdering the 25-year-old Arbery as the Black man was out on a Sunday jog in February 2020. In the week leading up to the trial, public safety agencies are getting ready for large crowds, potential protests and security threats.

The founder of Transformative Justice Coalition, Barbara Arnwine, says there have only been a few community activists attending the hearings leading up to the trial, but that number should swell once the trial begins.

Throughout next week, the coalition will hold prayer services, online discussions and other events, as well as have many of its members watch court proceedings on TV screens set up outside the Glynn County Courthouse and in some of its rooms every day.

Not only will the verdict determine whether Gregory McMichael, Travis McMichael and William “Roddie" Bryan spend years in prison, but for many onlookers it also becomes a watershed moment for racial injustice.

“(Arbery was) just a young man who had a life to live and we have no clue what the outcome of his life would be because it was cut short for no good reason," Arnwine said. “I think it's a story that the nation needs to reflect on and I think the other story here is the story of the community organizing."

While the Glynn County Sheriff's Office handles security inside the courthouse, a unified command composed of law enforcement and first responder agencies from around the area and state has been hashing out scenarios since June that might occur around the county.

Chad Posick, criminal justice and criminology professor at Georgia Southern University, said the potential tensions between law enforcement and Arbery's supporters make it all the more important that this case is handled fairly leading up to a verdict.

“There's so many important issues wrapped around incidences of hate crime, around issues of race, justice issues around policing and community relationships," Posick said. “There's a lot that's going to be here and the trial will be lengthy and I'm sure it's gonna be very emotional."

About 100 firefighters, police officers, Georgia State Patrol troopers and administrators met Monday afternoon to discuss potential threats and other situations if tensions rise during the month set aside for jury selection and trial.

“We have the unusual advantage of lead time to prepare so we're taking advantage of that," command spokesman Jay Sellers said. “Overall, the mission is to support peaceful assembly. However, we are keenly aware that many will come here with the best of intentions while a few may seek to do harm."

During the trial, the city will also be busy as tourists come in droves to attend the annual University of Georgia and University of Florida football game. There is potential for a historic amount of national and even international media coverage focused on the port city. Demonstrators are sure to crowd the courthouse lawn during the Arbery proceedings.

“The media turnout should be high, especially since the trial will be broadcast, but we have not gotten enough requests for assembly permits to have any confidence to say how many people may come in as guests," Sellers said. “We will likely see the permit requests grow once jury selection begins on October 18, though groups smaller than 100 will likely not even request a permit."

Court officials mailed jury duty notices to 1,000 people, a much larger summons than usual in an attempt to put together an impartial group in a case that raised a national outcry.

In a sign of how tight the community of Brunswick is, Brunswick City Commissioner Vincent Williams is a friend of Arbery's father, who also cuts Williams' yard. He has spoken with the grieving father about how important it is that Arbery gets justice.

Williams, a 1984 graduate of Brunswick High School, said he's not aware of anything close to the magnitude of the trial in Arbery's death ever taking place locally. That's saying something in a coastal area that's had more than its share of deadly law and order injustices.

Even with the anticipated large crowds, Williams said he's confident that everything will remain orderly.

The combined show of force charged with keeping the peace during the trial received the stamp of approval from Brunswick and Glynn elected officials, the Glynn sheriff's office, the Brunswick Judicial Circuit District Attorney's Office and local schools.

“I think that we, along with the county, state officials, federal officials and everything have put together a real good game plan," Williams said. “We are moving in the right direction to keep law and order in the city.

“Even before the arrests were made, how we handled things through that particular time, the protests and everything that happened was done peacefully," Williams said. “Our goal is to continue peacefulness even through the verdict. We know it's a very touchy subject, it's a very touchy time and we just want to be prepared."

Community plays important role

Without Bryan releasing the viral video of the chase that ended on a suburban Brunswick street after a shotgun-toting Travis McMichael felled Arbery with three blasts moments later, it is unlikely the case would be going to trial.

As the three accused killers tried to bond out of the Glynn County Jail in a May hearing, a Georgia Bureau of Investigation agent testified that as Arbery was bleeding on the street in the Satilla Shores neighborhood, Travis McMichael stood over him and spat a racial slur and obscenity.

Initially, local prosecutors who now face prosecution themselves used a citizen's arrest law to justify the killing. The GBI took over the investigation into Arbery's killing in spring 2020, resulting in the arrest of the three suspects.

Widespread awareness of the circumstances of Arbery's killing is also leading to a much larger jury pool than a typical murder trial, with potential jurists waiting inside a community center before getting cleared to go inside the courthouse.

The pandemic is leading to social distancing precautions inside a courtroom where jurors will be spread out and the gallery will be primarily limited to family members.

Streaming of the jury selection and trial will be available online, and the four-week trial is set aside to endure a spotlight on the highest-profile national case since former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin was found guilty in April of the murder of George Floyd.

In the summer of 2020, protests spread from the Georgia Capitol in downtown Atlanta to cities across the state demanding justice in killings of Black people that included Floyd, Arbery, Louisville's Breonna Taylor and others.

In Brunswick, Arbery's death became a unifying rallying cry for demonstrators demanding justice during demonstrations outside the courthouse as a grand jury considered indictments for his murder.

Posick said that a case that will be headlined nationally like Arbery's could present challenges, especially for a community as small as Brunswick with a population of just over 16,000.

Having a thorough jury selection process will be important in finding jurors who won't succumb to outside pressure from either side, he said.

“I think as long as procedures are in place that reduces the chance that's going to happen," Posick said. “Unfortunately, we do see it a lot in smaller towns and more rural areas where the community is just more tight knit and you have more opportunities to get at jurors."

After the case ends, the McMichaels and Bryan face more legal troubles in U.S. District court where they face charges of attempted kidnapping and committing racially motivated hate crimes related to Arbery's death.

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 judge tosses suit to inspect Fulton ballots after investigations confirm no fraud

A judge dismissed a lawsuit Wednesday that aimed to discredit Fulton County absentee ballots, the latest in a string of lawsuits challenging the validity of the 2020 presidential elections to get tossed.
Henry County Superior Court Judge Brian Amero ruled against a request by supporters of former President Donald Trump for an up-close review of Fulton's 147,000 absentee ballots after a secretary of state's office investigation cleared away their accusations that counterfeit ballots were cast in the Nov. 3 election.

Amero's ruling cites an investigation by Republican Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger's office that failed to find any fraudulent votes while reviewing several batches of ballots contested by a group of voters who filed suit.

In Tuesday's court brief, the secretary of state's office pointed out that poll monitor turned 6th District U.S. congressional GOP candidate Suzie Voyles was unable to identify the batches of “pristine" counterfeit paper absentee ballots she claimed she observed in an affidavit.

Despite claims that illegal ballots diluted the plaintiffs' votes, Amero wrote that without a specific injury alleged by plaintiffs then no standing to sue exists. Still, in September Amero asked the secretary of state's office and the Georgia Bureau of Investigation to look into the possibility the claims of counterfeit ballots were true.

Garland Favorito, founder of VoterGa.org and a lead plaintiff in the Fulton County ballot inspection lawsuit, disputed the merits of the dismissal and maintained that only a public inspection could resolve questions about whether illegal ballots influenced the election. The group's request included access to the paper ballots and the ability to use a high-powered microscope to inspect them.

The final version of the lawsuit listed as defendants the three Democrats on the Fulton election board. Favorito is planning to appeal the Amero's ruling.

“All citizens of Georgia have a right to know whether or not counterfeit ballots were injected into the Fulton County election results, how many were injected, where they came from and how we can prevent it from happening again in future elections," Favorito said. “It is not adequate for any organization to secretly tell us there are no counterfeit ballots and refuse to let the public inspect them.

“We prepared diligently to present concrete evidence of our allegations and refute other false claims at the scheduled Nov. 15th hearing," Favorito said.

Raffensperger repeatedly declared Georgia's 2020 election the most secure in the state's history, starting soon after the Nov. 3 election. Results were confirmed by multiple recounts.

Still, Trump allies, including his personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani, have peddled baseless conspiracy theories about widespread fraud leading to President Joe Biden's narrow Georgia victory last year.

Amero's ruling effectively kills the already miniscule chances of proving widespread fraud in elections in 2020, said Jeffrey Lazarus, associate professor of political science at Georgia State University.

Since November, scores of lawsuits in Georgia and multiple other states challenging the election have all been either dismissed or withdrawn.

Amero suspended the case in September, in part to delay a ruling on a motion to dismiss until investigation filings were received in the Fulton absentee ballot case.

“It's just part of the broader pattern of Republicans trying to delegitimize the 2020 election, and honestly, it's hard to delegitimize elections in general," Lazarus said. “They're trying to set the stage to do successfully in 2024 what they couldn't do in 2020, which is overturn an election result."

Fulton County Chairman Robb Pitts celebrated the rejection of the attempt that's akin to requiring the election results be confirmed for a fourth time.

The Nov. 3 presidential election has been confirmed by three counts, including one conducted by hand on the record 5 million ballots across Georgia.

“Proponents of the Big Lie have floated this same counterfeit ballot conspiracy theory across the country and it has been discredited at every turn," Pitts said in a statement. “I have been on the front lines of fighting the Big Lie since Day 1 when I told President (Donald) Trump and others to 'put up or shut up' and I will always fight those working to take away the voice of Fulton voters."

Favorito's group appeared to be on its way to gaining access to the ballots when Amero unsealed the ballots in May. But a planned visit to an election records warehouse came to a halt after attorneys for Fulton County asked Amero to dismiss the case.

They asked to use high-powered microscopes to inspect high-resolution images of absentee ballots in their effort to prove the baseless claims irregularities played a significant factor in election results that delivered former president Trump a loss in Georgia by about 12,000 votes.

A new state election law for the first time allows the public to inspect images of absentee ballots.

Trump continues to demand that his presidential election loss be overturned in Georgia, citing Fulton's duplicate ballots and incomplete chain of custody forms in DeKalb County.

One investigation that is making headway is an independent state review of Fulton's election operations that was prompted by requests from GOP lawmakers under the state's new takeover provision for election boards. Although the review was prompted by Republicans who question the legitimacy of Georgia's 2020 election, the potential takeover would only affect future contests.

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.

Legal losses keep piling up for Trump supporters who are trying to delegitimize the 2020 election

A judge dismissed a lawsuit Wednesday that aimed to discredit Fulton County absentee ballots, the latest in a string of lawsuits challenging the validity of the 2020 presidential elections to get tossed.

Henry County Superior Court Judge Brian Amero ruled against a request by supporters of former President Donald Trump for an up-close review of Fulton's 147,000 absentee ballots after a secretary of state's office investigation cleared away their accusations that counterfeit ballots were cast in the Nov. 3 election.

Amero's ruling cites an investigation by Republican Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger's office that failed to find any fraudulent votes while reviewing several batches of ballots contested by a group of voters who filed suit.

In Tuesday's court brief, the secretary of state's office pointed out that poll monitor turned 6th District U.S. congressional GOP candidate Suzie Voyles was unable to identify the batches of “pristine" counterfeit paper absentee ballots she claimed she observed in an affidavit.

Despite claims that illegal ballots diluted the plaintiffs' votes, Amero wrote that without a specific injury alleged by plaintiffs then no standing to sue exists. Still, in September Amero asked the secretary of state's office and the Georgia Bureau of Investigation to look into the possibility the claims of counterfeit ballots were true.

Garland Favorito, founder of VoterGa.org and a lead plaintiff in the Fulton County ballot inspection lawsuit, disputed the merits of the dismissal and maintained that only a public inspection could resolve questions about whether illegal ballots influenced the election. The group's request included access to the paper ballots and the ability to use a high-powered microscope to inspect them.

The final version of the lawsuit listed as defendants the three Democrats on the Fulton election board. Favorito is planning to appeal the Amero's ruling.

“All citizens of Georgia have a right to know whether or not counterfeit ballots were injected into the Fulton County election results, how many were injected, where they came from and how we can prevent it from happening again in future elections," Favorito said. “It is not adequate for any organization to secretly tell us there are no counterfeit ballots and refuse to let the public inspect them.

“We prepared diligently to present concrete evidence of our allegations and refute other false claims at the scheduled Nov. 15th hearing," Favorito said.

Raffensperger repeatedly declared Georgia's 2020 election the most secure in the state's history, starting soon after the Nov. 3 election. Results were confirmed by multiple recounts.

Still, Trump allies, including his personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani, have peddled baseless conspiracy theories about widespread fraud leading to President Joe Biden's narrow Georgia victory last year.

Amero's ruling effectively kills the already miniscule chances of proving widespread fraud in elections in 2020, said Jeffrey Lazarus, associate professor of political science at Georgia State University.

Since November, scores of lawsuits in Georgia and multiple other states challenging the election have all been either dismissed or withdrawn.

Amero suspended the case in September, in part to delay a ruling on a motion to dismiss until investigation filings were received in the Fulton absentee ballot case.

“It's just part of the broader pattern of Republicans trying to delegitimize the 2020 election, and honestly, it's hard to delegitimize elections in general," Lazarus said. “They're trying to set the stage to do successfully in 2024 what they couldn't do in 2020, which is overturn an election result."

Fulton County Chairman Robb Pitts celebrated the rejection of the attempt that's akin to requiring the election results be confirmed for a fourth time.

The Nov. 3 presidential election has been confirmed by three counts, including one conducted by hand on the record 5 million ballots across Georgia.

“Proponents of the Big Lie have floated this same counterfeit ballot conspiracy theory across the country and it has been discredited at every turn," Pitts said in a statement. “I have been on the front lines of fighting the Big Lie since Day 1 when I told President (Donald) Trump and others to 'put up or shut up' and I will always fight those working to take away the voice of Fulton voters."

Favorito's group appeared to be on its way to gaining access to the ballots when Amero unsealed the ballots in May. But a planned visit to an election records warehouse came to a halt after attorneys for Fulton County asked Amero to dismiss the case.

They asked to use high-powered microscopes to inspect high-resolution images of absentee ballots in their effort to prove the baseless claims irregularities played a significant factor in election results that delivered former president Trump a loss in Georgia by about 12,000 votes.

A new state election law for the first time allows the public to inspect images of absentee ballots.

Trump continues to demand that his presidential election loss be overturned in Georgia, citing Fulton's duplicate ballots and incomplete chain of custody forms in DeKalb County.

One investigation that is making headway is an independent state review of Fulton's election operations that was prompted by requests from GOP lawmakers under the state's new takeover provision for election boards. Although the review was prompted by Republicans who question the legitimacy of Georgia's 2020 election, the potential takeover would only affect future contests.


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 judge keeps 2020 presidential litigation alive with request for state info

A judge delayed a decision Monday in a lawsuit seeking to inspect Fulton County's 147,000 absentee ballots from 2020 in order to get more information from state investigations into allegations of counterfeit ballots.

Henry County Superior Court Judge Brian Amero called for the 20-day break in the lawsuit filed by VoterGa self-described watchdog Garland Favorito and other voters against the Fulton County election board to give the secretary of state's office and the Georgia Bureau of Investigation time to file updates on their investigations of accusations that fraudulent ballots were counted in the Nov. 3 election that delivered Georgia to President Joe Biden.

Once the briefs are filed, Amero said he'll be prepared to rule on Fulton attorneys' request to dismiss the lawsuit against members of the Fulton elections board.

If there is proof of counterfeit ballots, Amero said, then it would give the plaintiffs more credibility to award them a closer look at the ballots. Additionally, those briefs will offer insight into whether his court orders are hindering state investigations in any way, the judge said.

“It is important to me that we know whether or not counterfeit ballots have been introduced into the mix," Amero said.

Favorito and the group of Georgia voters are asking to examine the ballots using high-powered microscopes, which they claim will demonstrate that ballot fraud contributed to former President Donald Trump's loss in Georgia to Biden.

VoterGa's claims of absentee ballot fraud include affidavits from poll monitors' claiming pristine ballots were included in the batches counted. The claim hinges on the premise that the paper ballots should have been creased when folded to fit in an envelope.

An attorney representing Republican Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger said Monday that the details in the brief about the state's case will likely be limited because it's an ongoing investigation. Once completed, it will be presented to the State Election Board that will decide whether to refer the case to prosecutors.

State election officials have repeatedly debunked unfounded claims of election fraud, including counterfeit ballots, and resisted pressure from Trump to overturn Biden's Georgia victory.

An August review from a VoterGa's analysis identified nearly 200 Fulton ballots that were initially double counted and some incorrect tally sheets. However, there so far isn't any indication that those ballots were included in the official results.

Don Samuel, an attorney who was hired by the Fulton election board to defend its handling of the presidential ballots, said unlike previous cases challenging early voting hours or the closing of polling places in minority communities, plaintiffs in this case are seeking a judge's ruling without evidence of implications for future elections.

“Petitioners are saying 'look in the rear view mirror and you'll see there's counterfeit ballots, double counting,' but nobody says it's undeniably true this will occur in 2022," Samuel said.

The lawsuit isn't seeking to overturn the general election results but is requesting the court prevent policies or procedures from continuing to allow for fraudulent and other invalid ballots in future elections, Favorito's attorneys said.

Amero also agreed Monday to a request by an attorney for the Fulton sheriff's office that if round-the-clock security is maintained at the warehouse housing the ballots, then the plaintiffs must pick up the tab.

Amero granted Fulton County's request to dismiss the bulk of the lawsuit in July. The lone remaining defendants in the lawsuit are also the most recent additions — the newest individual members of the election board.

Trump continues to demand that his presidential election loss be overturned in Georgia, citing Fulton's duplicate ballots and incomplete chain of custody forms in DeKalb County.

There is one investigation that is making headway, an independent state review of Fulton's election operations that was prompted by requests from GOP lawmakers under the state's new takeover provision for election boards.

The results of that investigation and whether the state appoints a temporary Fulton election supervisor could affect the upcoming 2022 high stakes statewide elections with a U.S. Senate seat, congressional contests and the governor's race at the top of the tickets.

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.

Herschel Walker heads to Georgia Trump rally with wife cleared of improper voting

U.S. Senate candidate Herschel Walker is expected to be a major attraction Saturday with his recent ringing endorsement from former President Donald Trump as the two attend a “Save America" rally at the Georgia National Fairgrounds in Perry.

In the last year, Walker has emerged as a prominent Republican supporting Trump's unsubstantiated claim that widespread illegal voting and other election irregularities cost Trump the White House in November. On Tuesday, the former University of Georgia football star scored a victory at the State Election Board when it dismissed a complaint alleging that his wife, Julie Blanchard, had illegally voted while living in Texas.

The decision means Walker has a strong response if asked about the propriety of his wife's Georgia vote, especially in light of the former running back's claims that out-of-state votes helped cost Trump Georgia's 2020 election.

After months of playing coy while Trump urged him to run for Georgia's U.S. Senate seat on the ballot in 2022, Walker announced his campaign with a video on Aug. 25. He filed federal campaign paperwork last month listing the Buckhead home address that his wife used as her principal residence to vote.

Frances Watson, the chief investigator in the Georgia secretary of state's office, recommended that state board members close the inquiry into Blanchard's voting in the Nov. 3 general election and requesting an absentee ballot for the January runoff featuring a pair of Senate races.

Blanchard owns a Fulton County home, operates a business in Georgia, pays state income tax and has a vehicle registered here, Watson noted shortly before the 4-0 board vote.

“The investigation revealed that Julie Blanchard states she considers her residence to be in Georgia," Watson said. “She states that her husband owns a home in Texas so they do spend some time there."

Walker's press secretary Mallory Blount on Tuesday called Blanchard's voting case the result of political shenanigans.

“This was yet another absurd smear campaign by Herschel's political opponents," Blount said. “Herschel is traveling across the state connecting with Georgians and is laser focused on beating Raphael Warnock. Glad this matter is put to rest."

This is sort of the new wave for Republicans in primary contests to smear each other right now. Oh, how can Herschel Walker talk about voter integrity when his wife is playing games with the voter registration process?

– Jeffrey Lazarus, associate professor of political science at Georgia State University

Whoever filed the complaint against Blanchard has remained anonymous, but their inquiry raised questions about whether Blanchard's Texas or Georgia home met the legal voting requirements of being a permanent residence.

There have been other recent instances where candidates or their allies have tried to paint their political opponents as outsiders by questioning where they lived, which happened with Democrats and now-Sen. Jon Ossoff and U.S. Rep. Lucy McBath, said Jeffrey Lazarus, associate professor of political science at Georgia State University.

“This is sort of the new wave for Republicans in primary contests to smear each other right now," Lazarus said. “'Oh, how can Herschel Walker talk about voter integrity when his wife is playing games with the voter registration process?'"

“It's a way to paint one another as being insincere on the issue. So it's possible that we're gonna see more of this kind of thing as 'voter integrity' becomes a more central plank for Republicans," Lazarus said.

Walker is considered a front-runner to win the Republican primary in May, buoyed by his role in leading the UGA football team to the 1980 title and his close relationship with Trump. He played for Trump's New Jersey Generals in the United States Football League and made a case for his reelection as a speaker at the 2020 Republican National Convention.

He must first defeat three GOP primary challengers before running against the Democratic Sen. Raphael Warnock in the November 2022 Senate election, including state Agriculture Commissioner Gary Black, former Navy Seal Latham Saddler, and Marietta contractor and U.S. Air Force veteran Kelvin King.

Walker, who also faces new challenges as a first-time candidate, is one of several guest speakers at Saturday's Trump rally, each of whom has remained on Trump's good side by consistently repeating baseless election conspiracy theories.

Walker is expected to speak along with state Sen. Burt Jones in his bid for lieutenant governor, and U.S. Rep. Jody Hice in his secretary of state campaign to become Georgia's top election chief. Hice is vying to replace fellow Republican and incumbent Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, who Trump targeted for defeat when he declined to “find" enough votes to overcome President Joe Biden's narrow Georgia victory.

Trump's public endorsement Saturday will further boost Walker's popularity among the conservative voting bloc who remain captivated by the former president, Lazarus predicted.

“Republican primary voters love Trump and follow his lead," Lazarus said. “This is why the Republican Party is in the place that it is because he has so thoroughly captured Republican voters.

“Getting his endorsement and being seen visibly with him, getting on television with an image of you shaking Trump's hand with him smiling is a really big deal," he added.

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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