By Rich McKay
ATLANTA (Reuters) - A Georgia Superior Court judge could decide on Friday whether voters have the right to dissolve a county police department accused of mishandling of the killing of Black jogger Ahmaud Arbery in an incident caught on a cellphone video that went viral.
The video of the Feb. 23 death of Arbery, 25, in the coastal city of Brunswick sparked outrage across the country, with civil rights activists saying it marked yet another example of the attack of an innocent Black man.
A former Glynn County police officer, Gregory McMichael, 64, and his son Travis, 34, were charged with murder and aggravated assault, but only after state authorities stepped in about two months after the shooting.
The U.S. Department of Justice is investigating the Glynn County police department to determine why charges were not brought earlier even though authorities had possession of the video.
Police say Gregory McMichael saw Arbery jogging through his neighborhood outside of Brunswick and said he believed Arbery looked like a burglary suspect. The elder McMichael called his son and the two armed themselves and drove after Arbery.
A third man, William "Roddie" Bryan, joined the chase in his pickup truck, police say, and shot a video of the incident on his phone. The clip appears to show the McMichaels confronting Arbery before the jogger was shot with a shotgun.
The move to abolish the police department was brought by State Senator William Ligon, who wants to hand over law enforcement in the county to the sheriff's office.
"We had proposed this before, after some police malfeasance back in 2019, but the Arbery case reinviogorated it, reaffirmed that this needs to go before the voters," Ligon said.
The Georgia General Assembly passed Ligon's Senate bill in June, along with a companion bill filed in the state House of Representatives. Georgia Governor Brian Kemp signed it into law in August, but a new state law put the decision to dissolve the police to a referendum vote.
The Glynn County Board of Commissioners, however, filed a civil suit in late August to stop the Nov. 3 referendum, claiming it violates the state Constitution.
The judge is holding a hearing on Friday on the merits of the county commission's lawsuit, and he could issue a ruling on Friday
Michael Browning, chair of the county board, said, "There's not much I can say on pending litigation. But we brought this on constitutional grounds. The power to form or dissolve the police rests solely with the commission."
(Reporting by Rich McKay in Atlanta; Editing by Leslie Adler)