State Watch

Georgia governor moves to overhaul Civil War-era citizen’s arrest law after Ahmaud Arbery case

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Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp (R) has announced legislation to repeal the state’s Civil War-era citizen’s arrest statute almost a year after the law drew immense scrutiny following the killing of Ahmaud Arbery.

Kemp’s office said the bill, which will be carried by state Rep. Bert Reeves (R), would overhaul the state’s current citizen’s arrest law to help eliminate “any potential legal loopholes that could be used to justify vigilantism.”

Currently, a “private person may arrest an offender if the offense is committed in his presence or within his immediate knowledge,” the law states.

“If the offense is a felony and the offender is escaping or attempting to escape, a private person may arrest him upon reasonable and probable grounds of suspicion,” it continues. 

Under Kemp’s proposal, similar rights would only extend to security officers, private investigators, business owners and their employees, as well as weight inspectors in specific instances.

One section of the bill would allow business owners and their employees to detain offenders that the owner or employee has probable cause to believe is committing theft on the business’s property. 

That same section also includes provisions allowing restaurant owners and their employees to detain offenders they have probable cause to believe are attempting to “dine and dash,” another allowing weight inspectors to detain individuals when needed “in the course of their duties,” and one that permits licensed private security officers and private investigators to detain someone “when conducting their duties in the performance of their businesses.”

Kemp’s office said the bill would allow law enforcement officers the right to perform arrests outside of their respective jurisdictions in the event an offense is committed in the officer’s presence or immediate knowledge, the officer is in “hot pursuit” of an offender or when the officer is assisting law enforcement officers in another jurisdiction.

The bill also includes a provision barring “use of force that is likely to cause death or great bodily harm to detain someone under this Code Section unless the detention is to protect self, others, ones’ habitation, or to prevent a forcible felony,” the office stated.

The announcement comes roughly a year after prosecutors originally cited the state’s current citizen’s arrest law as reason not to charge two white man, father and son Gregory and Travis McMichael, in the killing of Arbery, a Black man, according to The Atlanta Journal Constitution

Arbery was 25 years old when he was fatally shot in February in Brunswick after a confrontation with the McMichaels. The father and son had been following Arbery, whose family said had been jogging and unarmed at the time, in their truck after they claimed they thought he was a burglary suspect.

The McMichael were arrested in May, almost three months after the fatal shooting, after footage of the incident went viral online. The two have since been charged with murder and aggravated assault.

Kemp called the killing “horrific” in a statement obtained by local media on Tuesday, saying Arbery “was a victim of [a] vigilante-style of violence that has no place in Georgia.”

He said his proposed overhaul of the state’s citizens’ arrest law would help “prevent the terrible consequences of a vague and outdated law” and added the legislation has “broad, bipartisan support in the General Assembly, our law enforcement community, and among civil rights advocacy groups.”

“As state leaders, we owe it to our children to root out injustice wherever it is found and leave this state better than we found it. I believe Republicans and Democrats can rise to the challenge again, put aside partisan politics, and support a balanced approach to overhauling Georgia’s citizen’s arrest law,” he added.

Tags Ahmaud Arbery Black Lives Matter Brian Kemp Citizen's arrest Georgia Gregory McMichael Killing of Ahmaud Arbery Law enforcement Law enforcement in the United States Travis McMichael
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