For the third time, the prosecution of Ahmaud Arbery’s accused killers has been assigned to a new prosecutor. In addition, Georgia Attorney General Chris Carr recently asked the federal Department of Justice to investigate the evident problems with how the case has been handled thus far. Carr promised to provide his office’s “entire file regarding the appointment process for the prosecutors in this case and provide any assistance requested by the [DOJ].” In addition, as reported in the NYT:
Justice Department officials said on Monday they were weighing whether to bring federal hate crime charges, and had asked state officials to pass along relevant information as they consider bringing an investigation. “We will continue to assess all information,” Kerri Kupec, a Justice Department spokeswoman, said in a statement, “and will take any appropriate action that is warranted by the facts and the law.”Rick Rojas & Richard Fausset, Killing of Ahmaud Arbery is Switched to a Fourth Prosecutor, NY Times (May 11, 2020).
One can only hope that something positive comes out of the DOJ’s involvement in the Arbery case. Unfortunately, recent history has shown that the agency’s leadership is unlikely to view the murder of an innocent African American by a former police detective and his son, and the racially biased law enforcement response to that murder, as serious civil rights concerns.
Among other tragic cases, Arbery’s case recalls the killing of Eric Garner, who was choked to death by NYPD Officer Daniel Pantaleo in full public view as bystanders filmed the encounter and Garner repeatedly gasped “I can’t breathe.” For five full years, under both Presidents Obama and Trump, DOJ officials squabbled about whether to file criminal charges against Panatelo. Finally, on the day before the statute of limitations would have expired, U.S. Attorney Richard P. Donoghue of the Eastern District of New York announced that Pantaleo would not be charged with civil rights violations.
Every case is different, but many of the DOJ officials who saw the video of Garner’s killing and were able to convince themselves that Pantaleo had not “willfully” applied “objectively unreasonable force” will likely be involved in the federal investigation of the Arbery case. I hope to be proved wrong, but that does not bode well for a just outcome.