Gov. Brian Kemp vowed to make changes to the state’s citizen’s arrest statute, which he called “a law that is ripe for abuse and enables sinister, evil motives.”
Kemp made the announcement during his State of the State address Thursday. The address focused heavily on the events of 2020 and ways the state would address them going forward.
Kemp called the video of Brunswick resident Ahmaud Arbery’s death “a viral video that shook the world.” The death of Arbery, 25, at the hands of a father and son Gregory and Travis McMichael, who claimed they were performing a citizen’s arrest of a man they suspected of burglarizing an under-construction home in their neighborhood, “shook a Georgia community to its very core,” Kemp said.
Arbery was out for a jog on Feb. 23, 2020, and was jogging through the neighborhood where Travis McMichael lived when the McMichaels decided to follow him in a pickup truck. Arbery was shot multiple times in a struggle as the McMichaels tried to detain him.
The McMichaels weren’t arrested for 2 ½ months.
Arbery was “the victim of a vigilante style of violence that has no place in our state. The deranged behavior that led to this tragedy was excused away,” Kemp said, by use of the state’s citizen’s arrest law.
Kemp said that his administration plans to introduce legislation that will reform the citizen’s arrest statute. He said he will be working with legislative leaders and members of both parties on the reform so that “we can take another step to a better, safer and more just future for our state.”
Last year’s Georgia General Assembly session was suspended in mid-March because of COVID-19. When the session resumed in June, the death of Arbery, as well as the death of George Floyd at the hands of police in Minneapolis, were major topics and led to the passage of Georgia’s new hate crimes bill. Though there was discussion of reforming the citizen’s arrest law, no action was taken.
State Reps. Philip Singleton, R-Sharpsburg, and Jeff Jones, R-Brunswick, introduced legislation that would change the citizen’s arrest law and put tighter restrictions on when it could be used. The bill was introduced with just a few days left in the short session and didn’t get much traction. Jones is no longer a member of the general assembly, having lost in the Republican primary.
However, after the end of the session, the House Judiciary Non-Civil Committee held a hearing on another bill that would repeal the citizen’s arrest law in its entirety. At that hearing, concerns were expressed that the law’s repeal would eliminate homeowners’ rights to detain a burglar they caught in the act, or store loss-prevention personnel from detaining shoplifters. Repeal could even mean that a homeowner would be able to use deadly force to stop a burglar, but couldn’t detain one until law enforcement arrives.
The head of the Georgia Sheriff’s Association said during the hearings on the bill that any legislation needs to distinguish between a citizen’s arrest and a citizen’s right to detain someone caught in the commission of a crime.
Singleton said Thursday he hasn’t seen the governor’s proposal yet but is pleased that Kemp is willing to take part in the discussion.
“I do not believe we should waste one more moment or one opportunity to fight for the safety and security of every Georgian while always protecting every citizen’s right to project themselves and their families,” Singleton said. “I am confident that with his support my legislation can move this session.”