A review of the seven-count federal grand jury indictments filed against two current Decatur County Sheriff’s deputy, one former Decatur County Sheriff’s Deputy and one former Grady County Sheriff’s deputy sheds more light on what specifically they are accused of doing.
As stated in the U.S. Department of Justice‘s press release accompanying the unsealing of the indictments: “An indictment is a formal accusation of criminal conduct, not evidence of guilt. The defendants are presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty.”
Count One of the indictments states that Wiley Griffin IV–one of the two sons of Decatur County Sheriff Wiley Griffin–violated the constitutional rights of Aaron Parrish, including “the right to be free from the unreasonable use of physical force by law enforcement officers,” by repeatedly hitting Aaron Parrish in the face, causing multiple injuries.
Griffin IV was employed as a deputy of the Grady County Sheriff’s Office at the time of the incident on Sept. 15, 2013 at Bainbridge Bikefest. Griffin was apparently helping a team of Decatur County Sheriff’s deputies who were working security at Bikefest that year. The deputies were being paid their normal pay by Bikefest, through a contract with Decatur County Commissioners, and were wearing more casual uniforms–polo shirts and cargo pants–that nonetheless identified them as law enforcement officers.
Count Two of the indictments states that Deputy Liz Croley violated Aaron Parrish’s constutional rights, including “not to be deprived of liberty without due process of the law, which includes the right to a fair trial.”
The indictment goes on to state, “Specifically, Croley intentionally held material, exculpatory evidence from the District Attorney’s Office … and in turn, Parrish’s defense counsel, thereby depriving Parrish of the exculpatory evidence when he was prosecuted and convicted by the District Attorney’s Office.”
The Random House Dictionary defines exculpatory as an adjective that means “tending to clear from a charge of fault or guilt.”
Count Three states that Croley “knowingly made a false entry in a record and document with the intent to impede, obstruct and influence the investigation and proper administration of the matter within federal jurisdiction.
The indictment states that Croley–who was the investigating officer on the case, supervised by Undersheriff Wendell Cofer–wrote a Decatur County Sheriff’s Office incident report that asserted that Aaron Parish was injured during a physical altercation with deputies that Parrish instigated by striking Croley.
According to the indictment, the incident report was false in that it 1) stated a civilian witness saw Parrish strike Croley and 2) omitted any mention of Wiley Griffin IV’s presence or involvement. According to the indictment, the same witness had provided Croley with a written statement identifying a different individual, other than Aaron Parrish, as the person had struck Croley.
In addition, the indictment stated Croley should have been aware that Wiley Griffin IV had repeatedly hit Aaron Parrish in the face, causing injuries.
Count Four alleges that former Decatur County Sheriff’s Deputy Wade Umbach, who was actively involved in the struggle to detain Parrish, “knowingly made a false entry in a record and document with the intent to impede, obstruct, and influence the investigation and proper administration of the matter within federal jurisdiction.
According to the indictment, Umbach wrote a witness statement for the Decatur County Sheriff’s Office case file that asserted that Parrish was injured during a physical altercation with deputies that Parrish instigated by striking Croley. The indictment states the report was false because it omitted Griffin IV’s presence and involvement.
Count Five uses the same wording as Count Four except it accuses Decatur County Sheriff’s deputy Christopher Kines of falsifying a statement included in the DCSO case file.
Count Six concerns Deputy Umbach’s statements to Special Agents of the Federal Bureau of Investigation on November 14, 2013, about nine months after Parrish’s trial for obstruction and attempting to remove an officer’s weapon. The indictment states Umbach “made false and misleading statements to the FBI that 1) Griffin IV did not use force against Aaron Parrish and 2) that the only person who hit Aaron Parrish was Deputy Chris Kines. The indictment states that Umbach should have known that Griffin IV repeatedly hit Parrish in the face, causing injuries.
County Seven concerns Deputy Kines’ statements to FBI Special Agents on Nov. 5, 2013. The indictment states Kines made false and misleading statements to the FBI that 1) Griffin IV did not use force against Aaron Parrish and 2) that the only person who hit Aaron Parrish was himself, Deputy Chris Kines.
The indictments were approved by the grand jury as true bills, which means prosecution will proceed.
Sheriff refutes allegations
In the meantime, Decatur County Sheriff Wiley Griffin, who has held the office since 1999, made the following statements to The Bainbridge Post-Searchlight:
“I believe in those four officers, they are four very good people,” Griffin said. “I’m behind them 100 percent. I believe in the federal judicial system. Their names will be cleared.”
“My officers have not lied to the FBI or any federal authority,” Griffin said. “I am familiar with this case. They did their job and they will be exonerated, no doubt about it.”
Griffin said Croley and Kines would be assigned to desk duty during the remainder of the investigation.
“We will treat it like any other serious matter,” Griffin said. “We will always tell the truth and do the right thing, and when you do that, everything takes care of itself.”