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)
Medical Workers Sign Letter Urging Spotify to Combat Misinformation, Citing Joe Rogan
The letter accused Spotify of “enabling its hosted media to damage public trust in scientific research.”
Doctors and Medical Professionals Sign Letter to Spotify
A group of 270 doctors, scientists, and other medical workers signed an open letter to Spotify this week urging the audio platform to implement a misinformation policy, specifically citing false claims made on the “Joe Rogan Experience” podcast.
Rogan has faced no shortage of backlash over the last year for promoting vaccine misinformation on his show, which airs exclusively on Spotify. Most recently, he invited Dr. Robert Malone on a Dec. 31 episode that has since been widely criticized by health experts.
Dr. Malone was banned from Twitter for promoting COVID-19 misinformation. According to the medical experts who signed the letter, he “used the JRE platform to further promote numerous baseless claims, including several falsehoods about COVID-19 vaccines and an unfounded theory that societal leaders have ‘hypnotized’ the public.”
“Notably, Dr. Malone is one of two recent JRE guests who has compared pandemic policies to the Holocaust,” the letter continued. “These actions are not only objectionable and offensive, but also medically and culturally dangerous.”
Joe Rogan’s History of COVID-19 Misinformation
Rogan sparked swift criticism himself in the spring of 2021 when he discouraged young people from taking the COVID-19 vaccine. He also falsely equated mRNA vaccines to “gene therapy” and incorrectly stated that vaccines cause super mutations of the virus. He took ivermectin after testing positive for the virus in September, despite the fact that the drug is not approved as a treatment for COVID.
“By allowing the propagation of false and societally harmful assertions, Spotify is enabling its hosted media to damage public trust in scientific research and sow doubt in the credibility of data-driven guidance offered by medical professionals,” the doctors and medical workers wrote.
“We are calling on Spotify to take action against the mass-misinformation events which continue to occur on its platform,” they continued. “With an estimated 11 million listeners per episode, JRE is the world’s largest podcast and has tremendous influence. Though Spotify has a responsibility to mitigate the spread of misinformation on its platform, the company presently has no misinformation policy.”
Rolling Stone was the first outlet to report on the letter from the medical professionals. Dr. Katrine Wallace, an epidemiologist at the University of Illinois Chicago, was among the signees. She told the magazine that Rogan is “a menace to public health.”
“These are fringe ideas not backed in science, and having it on a huge platform makes it seem there are two sides to this issue,” she said. “And there are really not.”
Spotify had not responded to the letter as of Thursday.
See what others are saying: (Rolling Stone) (Deadline) (Insider)
Data Shows Omicron May be Peaking in the U.S.
In some cities that were first hit by the surge, new cases are starting to flatten and decline.
New Cases Flattening
After weeks of recording-breaking cases driven by the highly infectious omicron variant, public health officials say that new COVID infections seem to be slowing in the parts of the country that were hit the hardest earlier on.
Following a more than twentyfold rise in December, cases in New York City have flattened out in recent days.
New infections have even begun to fall slightly in some states, like Maryland and New Jersey. In Boston, the levels of COVID in wastewater — which has been a top indicator of case trends in the past — have dropped by nearly 40% since the first of the year.
Overall, federal data has shown a steep decline in COVID-related emergency room visits in the Northeast, and the rest of the country appears to be following a similar track.
Data from other countries signals the potential for a steep decline in cases following the swift and unprecedented surge.
According to figures from South Africa, where the variant was first detected, cases rose at an incredibly shocking rate for about a month but peaked quickly in mid-December. Since then, new infections have plummeted by around 70%.
In the U.K., which has typically been a map for how U.S. cases will trend, infections are also beginning to fall after peaking around New Year’s and then flattening for about a week.
Despite these recent trends, experts say it is still too early to say if cases in the U.S. will decline as rapidly as they did in South Africa and the parts of the U.K. that were first hit.
While new infections may seem to be peaking in the cities that saw the first surges, caseloads continue to climb in most parts of the country.
Meanwhile, hospitals are overwhelmed and health resources are still strained because of the high volume of cases hitting all at once.
See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (The Washington Post) (The Wall Street Journal)
COVID-Driven School Closures Top Record Highs, But Many Remain Open
While some districts have implemented protective measures, many teachers say they fall short.
Schools Respond to Omicron Surge
U.S. COVID cases, driven by the omicron variant, are continuously topping new record highs, posing difficult questions for schools resuming after winter break.
According to Burbio, a data firm that tracks school closures, at least 5,409 public schools canceled classes or moved to remote learning by the end of last week due to COVID — more than triple the number at the end of December.
That is still only a fraction of the nation’s 130,000 schools, and many of the biggest school districts in the country are still insisting that students come into the classroom.
Los Angeles, which is home to the second-biggest district, is requiring that students at least test negative before they return to school this week.
In the biggest district of New York City, classes have already resumed following winter break. Although the city has said it will double random tests and send home more kits, students were not required to provide negative results.
Teachers Protest In-Person Learning
Teachers in other major districts have protested the local government’s decisions to stay open.
One of the most closely watched battles is in Chicago, where students on Monday missed their fourth consecutive day of school due to a feud between the Chicago Teachers Union and Mayor Lori Lightfoot (D).
Last week, the union voted to return to remote learning in defiance of a city-wide order mandating they teach in-person, citing inadequate COVID-19 protections. Lightfoot claimed the conditions were fine and that students were safe, despite record surges, instead opting to cancel classes altogether while the fight plays out.
On Sunday, the union said it was “still far apart” from making any kind of agreement with public school officials after Lightfoot rejected their demands.
Lightfoot, for her part, has said she remains “hopeful” a deal could be reached, but she also stirred up the union by accusing teachers of staging an “illegal walkout” and claiming they “abandoned their posts and they abandoned kids and their families.”
Meanwhile, teachers in other school districts have begun to emulate the tactics in Chicago.
On Friday, teachers in Oakland, California staged a “sick-out,” promoting 12 schools serving thousands of students to close.