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Georgia judge rules out referendum on abolishing police department in Black jogger case

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ATLANTA (Reuters) - A Georgia Superior Court judge ruled on Friday that voters cannot decide to abolish the Glynn County Police Department over its handling of the murder of a Black jogger, an incident captured on a cellphone video that created a national outcry.

Liberty County Judge Charles Rose ruled that the authority to abolish a police department rests with local officials and was not subject to a public referendum.

The move to abolish the Glynn County Police Department was spurred by the shooting death of Ahmaud Arbery, 25, by two white men, including a former police officer. The killing occurred in February but the suspects were charged only after state authorities become involved two months later.

Michael Browning, the chair of the Glynn County Board of Commissioners, said that it was the right decision.

“This was unconstitutional from the get-go,” said Browning who pushed for the lawsuit to stop the referendum.

State Senator William Ligon, who started ballot initiative was not immediately available for comment. The state legislature approved of the referendum in June and Gov. Brian Kemp signed it into law in August, prompting the county commission’s lawsuit.

A former Glynn County police officer, Gregory McMichael, 64, and his son Travis, 34, were charged with murder and aggravated assault in the Arbery case.

Police say Gregory McMichael saw Arbery jogging through his neighborhood outside of Brunswick and said he believed Arbery looked like a burglary suspect. The elder McMichael called his son and the two armed themselves and drove after Arbery.

The cell phone video appears to show Arbery was chased and shot with a shotgun. The Department of Justice is investigating the police department over the delay in bringing charges.

Reporting by Rich McKay in Atlanta; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and Alistair Bell

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