WAYNESBORO, Ga. (WJBF) — Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp signed a bill Monday repealing the state’s citizen’s arrest law. The controversial law was implemented in 1863 amid the Civil War. It gained national attention in 2020 following the death of Ahmaud Arbery, a 25-year-old black man killed by white men who believed he had committed a crime.
“Today, I was proud to sign H.B. 479 to overhaul Georgia’s citizen’s arrest statute, while also protecting every Georgian’s sacred right to defend their person and property. After the tragic killing of Ahmaud Arbery, we knew that action was needed to ensure an antiquated, Civil-War era statute could not be used to justify rogue vigilantism in the Peach State.”Gov. Brian Kemp
“It’s unfortunate that it took a case like the Ahmaud Arbery case to bring about change,” Burke County Sheriff Alfonzo Williams says. “It’s welcomed and much needed change.”
The new law hits home for Sheriff Williams who graduated high school with Arbery’s mother, Wanda Cooper-Jones.
“I think this is a step in the right direction. I think her work has not gone unnoticed, and it’s not in vain.”
Under the previous law, Georgia residents could make arrests if they witnessed a crime or if it was within their “immediate knowledge.” H.B. 479 ends this, and only allows citizens to make arrests in self defense. Business owners can still detain a person if they are suspected of theft.
However, Chief Patrick Clayton of the Richmond County Sheriff’s Office urges the public to be cautious before moving to detain a person for these reasons.
“These are highly volatile, quickly evolving situations that can go bad pretty quickly even for law enforcement, and we’re trained for it,” he explains. “We always encourage the public to give us a call.”