Former District Attorney Indicted in Ahmaud Arbery Case
The prosecutor is charged with “violation of oath of public officer,” along with “obstruction and hindering a law enforcement officer” for using her position to protect the two men now charged with Arbery’s murder.
Jackie Johnson Indicted
A grand jury in Georgia indicted former Glynn County District Attorney Jackie Johnson on Thursday over allegations that she used her position to shield the men now charged with the murder of Ahmaud Arbery.
Arbery, a 25-year-old Black man, was killed in February 2020 after Gregory McMichael and his son Travis, both of whom are white, saw him jogging in their Georgia neighborhood. The two men armed themselves and pursued Arbery in their pickup truck.
Cellphone video taken by William Bryan, a neighbor who joined the pursuit, shows the two McMichaels cornering Arbery before Travis shot him at close range with a shotgun.
The McMichaels claimed they followed Arbery because they believed was a burglar, and Travis said he shot the young man in self-defense after Arbery allegedly attacked him.
None of the men were immediately charged in Arberys death, and all three remained free for two months until the video of Arbery’s death leaked and went viral. In May, both McMichaels and Bryan were charged with murder. They face trial this fall.
The delayed charges prompted outrage, calls for accountability, and accusations of a coverup by local officials, ultimately resulting in Georgia Attorney General Chris Carr requesting an investigation into how prosecutors handled Arbery’s death.
Charges Against Johnson
The indictment handed down Thursday, which comes as a result of Carr’s investigation, charges Johnson with “violation of oath of public officer” and “obstruction and hindering a law enforcement officer.”
According to the court filing, Johnson showed “favor and affection” to Gregory McMichael, who previously worked as an investigator in her office, and “knowingly and willfully” directed two Glynn County police officers not to arrest Travis McMichael, “contrary to the laws of said state.”
Evidence introduced in pretrial hearings in Arbery’s case showed that the elder McMichael called Johnson’s cellphone and left her a voice message immediately after the shooting.
“Jackie, this is Greg,” he said, per a recording of the call in the public case file. “Could you call me as soon as you possibly can? My son and I have been involved in a shooting and I need some advice right away.”
Records of Gregory McMichael’s cellphone do not show that he received a call from Johnson, who recused herself from the case.
However, the indictment also alleges that Johnson failed to “treat Ahmaud Arbery and his family fairly and with dignity” when she did not disclose she sought help from Waycross District Attorney George Barnhill before recommending he take over the case.
Within 24 hours of Arbery’s death, Barnhill had told police he saw no reason to arrest any of the three men involved. Carr later appointed Barnhill to handle the case on Jackson’s recommendation.
In his letter ordering the investigation in May, Carr said neither district attorney informed him that Barnhill had advised police. He also said that the two failed to follow state guidelines on reporting conflicts of interest because they did not disclose that Barnhill’s son worked for Johnson.
Barnhill, who recused himself in April after Arbery’s family discovered his conflicts of interest, is also a subject of Carr’s probe.
Charges have not been announced against Barhill, but in a statement Thursday, Carr said the investigation was ongoing.
“While an indictment was returned today, our file is not closed, and we will continue to investigate in order to pursue justice,” he said. “Our office is committed to ensuring those who are entrusted to serve are carrying out their duties ethically and honestly.”
Barnhill, who has previously declined to comment on the Arbery case, responded to the news of Johnson’s indictment in an email to reporters where he wrote that people must “let the Court and the criminal justice system do their work.”
Johnson, who was removed by voters last fall, could not be reached for comment but has previously denied wrongdoing.
If convicted, she could face up to five years for the charge of violating her oath as a public officer and up to 12 months for the obstruction charge.
See what others are saying: (The Washington Post) (The New York Times) (The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)
Survey and Census Data Shows Record Number of Americans are Struggling Financially
Americans are choosing not to pursue medical treatment more and more frequently as they encounter money troubles.
A recent federal survey shows that a record number of Americans were worse off financially in 2022 than a year prior.
Coupled with recent census data showing pervasive poverty across much of the country, Americans are forced to make difficult decisions, like foregoing expensive healthcare.
According to a recent Federal Reserve Bureau survey, 35% of adults say they were worse off in 2022 than 2021, which is the highest share ever recorded since the question was raised in 2014.
Additionally, half of adults reported their budget was majorly affected by rising prices across the country, and that number is even higher among minority communities and parents living with their children.
According to recent census data, more than 10% of the counties in the U.S. are experiencing persistent poverty, meaning the area has had a poverty rate of 20% or higher between 1989 and 2019.
16 states report at least 10% of their population living in persistent poverty. But most of the suffering counties were found in the South — which accounts for over half the people living in persistent poverty, despite making up less than 40% of the population.
These financial realities have placed many Americans in the unfortunate situation of choosing between medical treatment and survival. The Federal Reserve study found that the share of Americans who skipped medical treatment because of the cost has drastically increased since 2020.
The reflection of this can be found in the overall health of households in different income brackets. 75% of households with an income of $25,000 or less report being in good health – compared to the 91% of households with $100,000 or more income.
See what others are saying: (Axios) (The Hill) (Federal Reserve)
Montana Governor Signs TikTok Ban
The ban will likely face legal challenges before it is officially enacted next year.
First Statewide Ban of TikTok
Montana became the first state to ban TikTok on Wednesday after Gov. Greg Gianforte (R) signed legislation aimed at protecting “Montanans’ personal and private data from the Chinese Communist Party.”
The ban will go into effect on Jan. 1, 2024, though the law will likely face a handful of legal challenges before that date.
Under the law, citizens of the state will not be held liable for using the app, but companies that offer the app on their platforms, like Apple and Google, will face a $10,000 fine per day of violations. TikTok would also be subject to the hefty daily fine.
Questions remain about how tech companies will practically enforce this law. During a hearing earlier this year, a representative from TechNet said that these platforms don’t have the ability to “geofence” apps by state.
Roger Entner, an analyst at Recon Analytics, told the Associated Press that app stores could have the capability to enforce the restriction, but it would be difficult to carry out and there would be a variety of loopholes by tools like VPNs.
Montana’s law comes as U.S. politicians have taken aim at TikTok over its alleged ties to the CCP. Earlier this year, the White House directed federal agencies to remove TikTok from government devices. Conservatives, in particular, have been increasingly working to restrict the app.
“The Chinese Communist Party using TikTok to spy on Americans, violate their privacy, and collect their personal, private, and sensitive information is well-documented,” Gov. Gianforte said in a Wednesday statement.
Criticism of Montana Law
TikTok, however, has repeatedly denied that it gives user data to the government. The company released a statement claiming Montana’s law “infringes on the First Amendment rights of the people” in the state.
“We want to reassure Montanans that they can continue using TikTok to express themselves, earn a living, and find community as we continue working to defend the rights of our users inside and outside of Montana,” the company said.
The American Civil Liberties Union condemned Montana’s law for similar reasons.
“This law tramples on our free speech rights under the guise of national security and lays the groundwork for excessive government control over the internet,” the ACLU tweeted. “Elected officials do not have the right to selectively censor entire social media apps based on their country of origin.”
Per the AP, there are 200,000 TikTok users in Montana, and another 6,000 businesses use the platform as well. Lawsuits are expected to be filed against the law in the near future.
See what others are saying: (Associated Press) (Fast Company) (CBS News)
How a Disney-Loving Former Youth Pastor Landed on The FBI’s “Most Wanted” List
“Do what is best, not for yourself, for once. Think about everyone else,” Chris Burns’ 19-year-old son pleaded to his father via The Daily Beast.
Multi-Million Dollar Scheme
Former youth pastor turned financial advisor Chris Burns remains at large since going on the run in September of 2020 to avoid a Securities Exchange Commission investigation into his businesses.
Despite his fugitive status, the Justice Department recently indicted Burns with several more charges on top of the $12 million default judgment he received from the SEC.
Burns allegedly sold false promissory notes to investors across Georgia, North Carolina, and Florida. The SEC claims he told the investors they were participating in a “peer to peer” lending program where businesses that needed capital would borrow money and then repay it with interest as high as 20%. Burns allegedly also reassured investors that the businesses had collateral so the investment was low-risk.
The SEC says that Burns instead took that money for personal use.
Burns began his adult life as a youth pastor back in 2007 before transitioning into financial planning a few years later. By 2017, he launched his own radio show, The Chris Burns Show, which was funded by one of his companies, Dynamic Money – where every week Burns would “unpack how this week’s headlines practically impact your life, wallet, and future,” according to the description. He also frequently appeared on television and online, talking about finances and politics.
The SEC alleges that he used his public appearances to elevate his status as a financial advisor and maximize his reach to investors.
His family told The Daily Beast that he became obsessed with success and he reportedly bought hand-made clothes, a million-dollar lakehouse, a boat, several cars, and took his family on several trips to Disney World. His eldest son and wife said that Burns was paying thousands of dollars a day for VIP tours and once paid for the neighbors to come along.
Then in September 2020, he reportedly told his wife that he was being investigated by the Securities Exchange Commission but he told her not to worry.
The day that he was supposed to turn over his business documents to the SEC, he disappeared, telling his wife he was just going to take a trip to North Carolina to tell his parents about the investigation. Then, the car was found abandoned in a parking lot with several cashier’s checks totaling $78,000
FBI’s Most Wanted
The default judgment in the SEC complaint orders Burns, if he’s ever found, to pay $12 million to his victims, as well as over $650,000 in a civil penalty. Additionally, a federal criminal complaint charged him with mail fraud. Burns is currently on the FBI’s Most Wanted list.
Last week, the Justice Department indicted him on several other charges including 10 counts of wire fraud and two counts of mail fraud.
“Burns is charged for allegedly stealing millions of dollars from clients in an illegal investment fraud scheme,” Keri Farley, Special Agent in Charge of FBI Atlanta, said in a statement to The Daily Beast. “Financial crimes of this nature can cause significant disruptions to the lives of those who are victimized, and the FBI is dedicated to holding these criminals accountable.”
His family maintains that they knew nothing of Burns’ schemes. His wife reportedly returned over $300,000 that he had given to her.
She and their eldest son, who is now 19, told The Daily Beast they just want Burns to turn himself in, take responsibility for his actions, and try to help the people he hurt.
“Do what is best, not for yourself, for once. Think about everyone else,” Burns’ son said in a message to his father via The Daily Beast.