Presented by

The Georgia county at the center of the Ahmaud Arbery controversy is suing the state to stop a referendum on abolishing the beleaguered Glynn County police department.

The county commission filed a lawsuit late Friday arguing that a new state law allowing voters to decide in November whether to scrap the county police agency and hand law enforcement authority over to the sheriff is unconstitutional, The Brunswick News first reported. 

State lawmakers approved the binding referendum in the spring after Arbery’s death.

Arbery, a 25-year-old Black man, was shot and killed Feb. 23 after Gregory McMichael and Travis McMichael, a White father and his son with ties to the Glynn County police department and the district attorney’s office, armed themselves and pursued Arbery, who was jogging through their neighborhood just outside the coastal city of Brunswick. A third man, William “Roddie” Byran, a neighbor of the McMichaels, joined in their pursuit of Arbery and recorded the shooting with a cellphone.

The Glynn County police department was initially in charge of the case but sat on it for two months. The arrests only came after the Georgia Bureau of Investigation took over the case from local prosecutors.

All three men have been charged with felony murder.

As the national spotlight turned to the small Southern town, details began emerging about the county police department, which has been marred by scandals and claims of corruption for years, including allegations that detectives tampered with evidence, lied to prosecutors and retaliated against whistleblowers.

Four days after Arbery’s shooting, Glynn County Police Chief John Powell was indicted for perjury and witness tampering. Powell had been hired to clean up the department’s “culture of cronyism” but instead got caught up in a scandal where he was accused of covering up wrongdoing by the police department’s narcotics task force. Three other department officials were also arrested for their involvement.

In the lawsuit filed against the state, the county commissioners believe none of that matters.

Instead, they argued that the two laws that cleared the way for the November vote are “patently unconstitutional” and said the Georgia General Assembly cannot take back powers given to county governments in the state Constitution.

“The General Assembly cannot pass a local act that requires the abolishment of the police department without the input of the county, which is granted constitutional authority … to provide police protection to its citizens,” the commissioners said.


The suit also claimed that it was too late for the election to be held on Nov. 3, saying such elections have to be called 90 days ahead. Kemp signed the bills on Aug. 5, precisely 90 days before Nov. 3, but official notice to the Glynn County Board of Elections took several more days.

The county board initially interpreted the situation to require it to hold an entirely separate election with different ballots, machines and poll workers on the same day as the general election, estimating that would cost the county $500,000. Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger instead encouraged the board to put it on the same ballot as the other races, but the county’s lawsuit said that move is illegal.

The Associated Press contributed to this article.