Kemp hails passage of legislation to repeal citizen’s arrest law in Georgia

Published: Apr. 1, 2021 at 11:45 AM EDT
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ATLANTA - Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp applauded the final passage of HB 479, an overhaul of Georgia’s citizen’s arrest statute, a top priority of the legislative session after the slaying of Ahmaud Arbery.

The bill passed with overwhelming bipartisan support in both the House and Senate and was sent to the governor’s desk for his signature.

Arbery was a Black jogger with family ties to the CSRA who was shot dead in Glynn County in February 2020. The white father and son accused in his death said they thought he was committing a crime and were attempting a citizen’s arrest.

The case fueled nationwide protests by many who claimed a racial motivation in the slaying of Arbery, who is buried near Waynesboro.

“Our overhaul of the Georgia’s citizen’s arrest statute strikes a critical balance by allowing Georgians to protect themselves and their families, while also repealing Civil War-era language in our laws that is ripe for abuse,” Kemp said in a statement. “This legislation has broad support among law enforcement, civil rights groups, and in the General Assembly.”

Garden City state Rep. Carl Gilliard co-sponsored the bill. He says he has been working to pass legislation like this for a couple years and if made into law, Georgia would be the first state to repeal a citizen’s arrest law.

House Bill 479 passed its final hurdle Wednesday after lawmakers in the House voted 169-0 on an amendment to the bill.

For Gilliard, the bill’s passage is personal.

“In 1957, my brother, lost his life in Pembroke to what was deemed as a citizen’s arrest and was mutilated. People are losing lives every day and people have been losing their lives since 1863,” Gilliard said.

The citizen’s arrest law was enacted in 1863. After the death of Arbery last year, pressure mounted on lawmakers to pass a bill to get rid of it.

“Those that took his life cried a very, loud proud ‘citizen’s arrest’ and this is a law that since 1863, it’s outdated and antiquated and back in 1863 they would have up to 48 hours to hold someone so it’s important that Georgia set the pace on this bill. We dedicate it definitely to Ahmaud Arbery and any other family that has lost a family member to a citizen’s arrest law,” Gilliard said.

While repeal the current citizen’s arrest law that allows for private citizens to arrest another person, the new bill would still allow security guards and store employees to hold people accused of a crime until police arrive.

Gilliard says lawmakers from other states like New York and South Carolina are looking into repealing their citizen’s arrest laws.

He’s looking forward to working with them and others around the country.

Kemp has 40 days to sign or veto the bill or he has the option of not taking it up at all.

With the passage of HB 479, Georgia is the first state in the country to pass a repeal and reform of its citizen’s arrest statute. Read the bill here.

From reports by WRDW and WTOC