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Georgia governor announces reforms to state citizen’s arrest law one year after Ahmaud Arbery’s death

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Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp announced an overhaul of the state’s citizen’s arrest law Tuesday, one that was used to justify the death of Ahmaud Arbery last year.

Arbery, a 25-year-old Black man, was out for a jog near Brunswick, Georgia, on February 23, 2020, when he was chased down in a truck by three men and fatally shot. Two of the three men — Gregory and Travis McMichael — claimed to be conducting a citizen’s arrest and acted in self-defense.

Under the new law, a detained offender must be released or the person conducting the citizen’s arrest must call law enforcement within an hour. If authorities do not arrive within an hour, the detainee must be released, according to CNN affiliate WGCL-TV. The Civil War-era law initially said a private person can arrest an offender if the offense is committed in his or her presence or within his or her immediate knowledge.

“Ahmaud was a victim of a vigilante style of violence that has no place in Georgia. Some tried to justify the actions of his killers by claiming they had the protection of an antiquated law that is ripe for abuse,” Kemp said during a news conference Monday.

The new law also makes it clear when a citizen, business owner or law enforcement officer can detain someone.

Law enforcement officers can still perform arrests outside their jurisdictions when a crime is committed in front of them, when they’re in hot pursuit of an offender or when they’re assisting fellow officers in their duties, Kemp said. Business owners can all detain people breaking the law on their property.

The legislation does not undermine or infringe on the “sacred protection” of citizens’ right to defend themselves, Kemp said.

“Georgians can still defend themselves and their home,” Kemp said. “Private business owners can still reasonably detain lawbreakers and our heroes in law enforcement remain able to keep our communities safe day or night.”

All three men arrested in connection with Arbery’s death are being held without bond.

Gregory and Travis McMichael have pleaded not guilty to malice and felony murder charges, and counts of aggravated assault, false imprisonment, and criminal attempt to commit false imprisonment.

William “Roddie” Bryan Jr., who recorded video of Arbery’s death, allegedly hit Arbery with his truck after he joined the McMichaels in the chase. Bryan has pleaded not guilty to charges of criminal attempt to commit false imprisonment and felony murder.

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