Gregory McMichael Was Not a Good Cop

A look at the employment records of one of the men involved in the Ahmaud Arbery shooting.

The Guardian (“‘A great embarrassment’: records offer insight into Ahmaud Arbery suspect“):

Gregory McMichael, the white retired law enforcement officer who helped chase down and kill Ahmaud Arbery, an unarmed 25-year-old African American man, failed to complete sufficient basic law enforcement training for years, a deficiency that led to him losing his power of arrest.

McMichael, who worked as an investigator in the Brunswick judicial circuit district attorney’s office from 1995 to 2019, lost his power of arrest in January 2006 for failing to complete the required 20 hours of training the previous year, according to personnel records obtained by the Guardian.

He continued to be deficient in his training for the years that followed and didn’t get the waiver required to reinstate his power of arrest authority. Some of the training McMichael lacked included required courses on use of force and firearms.

Most of us are required to complete more than 20 hours of annual training as a condition of keeping our jobs. Most of us do so. And our jobs mostly don’t involve carrying around a loaded firearm and the power to arrest citizens.

The records also shed light on McMichael’s close relationship with Jackie Johnson, the district attorney for the Brunswick judicial circuit, who recused herself from the case and is now subject to a state investigation of how the case was handled.

What that “relationship” was, exactly, isn’t clear from the Guardian report, aside from this:

But McMichael didn’t alert his supervisors to the deficiency until 2014, according to the records. The problem was so severe, Post considered suspending him indefinitely. He was stripped of his gun and departmental vehicle while he applied to the state for a waiver.

In an April 2014 memo to Johnson, Mark Melton, another investigator in her office, warned that because McMichael lost his power of arrest “any improper actions by Greg would fall on Greg, the district attorney’s office, and you personally.”

McMichael ultimately had his certification restored. But Johnson, the district attorney, wrote to the agency responsible for overseeing the certification process that the episode was “a great embarrassment to me and Investigator McMichael”.

“It has negatively impacted my office and I have taken measures to ensure that this doesn’t happen,” Johnson added, stating she was grateful that the state’s law enforcement standards and training [Post] director had reinstated the license after she met him in person to lobby on McMichael’s behalf.

Glynn County only has 80,000 residents and its police department has 122 officers. One would think it would be possible to track their completion of annual training. Presumably, most of it is online modules that would do the tracking automatically. (Scanning the above-linked records, most of the training is of the worthless variety most of us are subject to. I’m thinking, for example, that Islamist terrorism is a relative rarity in Glynn County.)

In February 2019, months before he retired, McMichael again lost his certification from Post for failing to complete the required training in 2018. Weeks later, his supervisors reassigned him to work as a staff liaison in the Camden county district attorney’s office and noted that he would “not engage in any activity that would be construed as being law enforcement in nature”. His supervisors noted he would not carry a badge or firearm in his new role.

McMichael clearly wasn’t motivated to do his training, having failed to do it for years on end. It’s hardly shocking that he blew it off the year when he was going to retire.

Also interesting:

The records highlight the multiple medical and personal issues that McMichael cited for missing various training programs. In a letter authored by McMichael to explain his absences between 2005 and 2010 and request a training exemption, he states that in 2006, following a heart attack, he experienced clinical depression.

“The depression made me unable at times to focus on important tasks … I immediately sought treatment, which continues to this day,” he writes.
He writes that in 2009 he and his wife filed for bankruptcy and later that year he experienced a second heart attack: “I believe that this heart attack was brought on in large part by the stress that I was experiencing both at home and at work.”

Certainly, the stresses did not include the aggravations of annual training. And one suspects his obesity contributed to the heart attack.

His annual reviews from superiors present a mixed track record and his overall performance is never rated above “good”. One November 2000 review notes: “Needs to improve his organization and prioritization of his workload.” Multiple reports describe a lack of organizational skills.

In fairness, “Good” is the second-highest category and is described as “Exceeded expectations.” There may well be a limit to how many officers are allowed to be rated “Excellent.”

Either the management of the Glynn County Police Department is woefully lax or McMichael was a relatively typical officer in a place that doesn’t recruit top-notch talent. These are not mutually exclusive options. Indeed, the quality of the hand-written comments on the evaluations is comically unprofessional.

And this is just a head-scratcher:

“We are confident that any investigation will ultimately show that our office acted appropriately under the circumstances,” her office said in a statement. “There is a public misconception about this case due to false allegations against our office by those with an agenda.”

If complete incompetence in allowing an unqualified officer to carry a gun and arrest people for years on end is “appropriate,” then yes.

McMichael comes across as an unmotivated sad sack inexplicably allowed to keep what I would imagine is a relatively good job for the area for years despite being unqualified to do it.

It’s not obvious this new information materially impacts our knowledge of the case other than this: the notion that his training as a law enforcement professional should have made him hyper-aware that he was not authorized to do any number of things along the path that led to the shooting would seem disproven. He didn’t get much training and no one seemed to care.

FILED UNDER: Crime, Law and the Courts, Terrorism, , , ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. gVOR08 says:

    In other news, there’s gambling going on at Rick’s.

  2. CSK says:

    “…an unmotivated sad sack…”

    Does that apply to Travis, who did the actual shooting, as well?

  3. Sleeping Dog says:

    Urban police departments regularly come under protest for harboring and protecting “bad cops,” but the bad cop problem is worse in small cities and counties. Beyond the usual backscratching and logrolling, it is far too frequent that an officer who has abused his power is allowed to quietly resign rather than to face disciplinary action. LEO license intact he/she moves to another small department in the next county and media market and gets hired. Who knows what goes on with the background check, if any was conducted, but I suspect that personnel privacy policies limit the information shared.

  4. gVOR08 says:

    @Sleeping Dog:

    but I suspect that personnel privacy policies the indifference of department management limit the information shared.

    I suspect this is more correct. Got a law enforcement cert? Willing to take what we pay? You’re hired.

  5. Pylon says:

    @CSK: apple/tree; chip/block…

  6. Bill says:


    Does that apply to Travis, who did the actual shooting, as well?

    Like father, like son.

  7. CSK says:

    @Pylon: @Bill:
    In my lifetime, I’ve known several unmotivated sad sacks. Travis and Gregory may well fit that description, but I also find them malign.

  8. dazedandconfused says:

    His record of poor judgement can now be amended with:

    “Instead of tailing at a distance while communicating the suspected perp’s location to police, the unmotivated sad-sack opted for a citizens arrest. (Insert face-palm meme here)”