The ballot question at issue asks voters whether to defund and abolish the county police department and turn over law enforcement authority to the sheriff.
BRUNSWICK, Ga. (CN) — The commissioners of a Georgia county where Black jogger Ahmaud Arbery was shot and killed after being chased by two armed white men are suing state election officials to challenge the constitutionality of a referendum on abolishing the county police department.
The lawsuit filed Friday by the Glynn County Board of Commissioners in Glynn County Superior Court against Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger and members of the county elections board argues that a state law mandating the Nov. 3 vote is unconstitutional.
The county challenges Senate Bills 38 and 509, which were passed by the Georgia Legislature in June and signed by Republican Governor Brian Kemp in August. SB 38 allows the state to abolish a county police department if voters choose to do so and SB 509 requires a referendum on the issue of whether to defund and abolish the county police agency.
“SB 38 and SB 509 are unlawful and unconstitutional attempts to usurp the power explicitly granted to counties by the Georgia Constitution and statutory law to provide police protection – including the sole power to abolish police protections – within their jurisdictions,” the complaint states.
The laws would set up a special election question on the November ballot to defund and abolish the county police department and turn over law enforcement authority to the sheriff.
The commissioners seek an injunction barring election officials from placing the referendum question on the Nov. 3 general election ballot. They claim that SB 38 unfairly takes away the power of elected county officials and solely targets Glynn County.
“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, as doing so would effectively be a withdrawal of a county’s power to provide police protection to its citizens,” the lawsuit states.
The complaint also alleges that the mandatory statutory deadline for calling the special election question cannot be met because SB 509 was not signed and delivered to the county elections board in time to place the referendum on the same ballot as the statewide general election ballot.
State lawmakers approved the bills in the wake of national outcry over Arbery’s Feb. 23 shooting death.
The 25-year-old was shot and killed in Brunswick, Georgia, while jogging through a residential area. Video of the shooting showed two white men chasing Arbery in a white pickup truck before confronting him on foot.
The video footage was released in May and sparked protests across the country. More than two months after the killing, retired police detective Gregory McMichael and his son, Travis McMichael, were charged with felony murder and aggravated assault in connection with the crime.
The Glynn County Police Department’s handling of the Arbery case drew criticism from state and national officials who questioned why no arrests were made in the case for over two months despite the existence of the video.
Four different prosecutors were assigned to the case but no arrests were made until after the Georgia Bureau of Investigation took over.
Other controversies have plagued the police department, including claims of unjustified shootings by officers.
The county police chief and three former high-ranking officers were indicted in February on charges that they ignored evidence that an officer was consorting with a drug dealer. A Glynn County narcotics officer was also found to have been having sex with two confidential informants.