Four indicted Sheriff’s deputies to stand trial next week

The four former and current Decatur County Sheriff’s deputies who were indicted by a federal jury over allegations they violated the civil rights of a man at the 2012 Bainbridge Bikefest will stand trial in federal court starting next week.

The four law enforcement officers were indicted by a federal jury in July 2014. The indictment concerns an incident that took place at the Bainbridge Bikefest on Sept. 15, 2012. Decatur County Sheriff’s deputies were handling security at Bikefest and responded to break up a disturbance. While investigating the disturbance, deputies had to restrain Ronnie Aaron Parrish of Bainbridge, who was injured.

Federal prosecutors will argue that Parrish’s injuries, including a visibly swollen eye and cuts to his face, were caused by law enforcement officers. The defendants’ attorneys will likely argue that reasonable methods were used to restrain Parrish, based on the circumstances they encountered.

  • Former Grady County Sheriff’s Deputy Wiley Griffin IV and Decatur County Sheriff’s Office Captain Elizabeth Croley are charged with violating an individual’s civil rights.
  • Additionally, Croley, Decatur County Sheriff’s Deputy Christopher Kines and former Decatur County Sheriff’s Deputy Robert Wade Umbach are charged with writing false reports to cover up the alleged assault.
  • In addition, Kines and Umbach are charged with making misleading statements to the FBI to obstruct the agency’s investigation into the use of force against Parrish.

According to court records, jury selection will start May 21. The Honorable Judge W. Louis Sands will preside over the trial, which will be held at the federal courtroom in Albany, Ga.

After jury selection is complete and the trial begins, each of the parties’ attorneys will be given 45 minutes to make their opening statements.

The federal government’s prosecutors are Risa Berkower and Christina Siscaretti. Each of the four defendants has their own attorney.

  • Wiley Griffin IV is represented by Charles Cox Jr. of Macon, Ga.
  • Elizabeth Croley is represented by Joshua Bell of Whigham, Ga.
  • Robert Wade Umbach is represented by Christina Hunt of Macon, Ga. (federal public defender).
  • Christopher Kines is represented by Kermit Dorough Jr. of Albany, Ga. (retained with Criminal Justice Act funds).

Several days after the incident at Bikefest, Aaron Parrish was arrested and charged with attempting to remove an officer’s firearm from his person and felony obstruction of law enforcement officers. Parrish was found not guilty of attempting to remove an officer’s gun but was convicted of felony obstruction in Decatur County Superior Court.

What about the civil lawsuit?

Parrish has filed a civil lawsuit in federal court that is separate from the criminal trial. The civil lawsuit names the following defendants: Decatur County Sheriff Wiley Griffin III, former Grady County deputy Wiley Griffin IV, Decatur County Undersheriff Wendell Cofer; as well as Decatur County deputies Liz Croley, Robert Wade Umbach and Chris Kines. The Decatur County Board of Commissioners, which oversees county government, is also named as a defendant.

The lawsuit’s main claims are that Parrish’s civil rights, specifically those granted by the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments of the U.S. Constitution, were violated on the night of Sept. 15, 2012 at Bainbridge Bikefest.

In the civil lawsuit, Parrish alleges he was struck in the face with a large flashlight, causing his injuries. The presence or use of a flashlight on the night in question was only briefly mentioned during Parrish’s criminal trial, in which attorneys for both sides argued over exactly what caused his injuries.

Also in dispute during the 2013 trial was whether or not Parrish struck or pushed Captain Croley as deputies tried to bring the situation under control. Deputy Umbach testified had that he moved to restrain Parrish after seeing him strike Croley, and Kines testified he went to help Umbach.

The lawsuit asks for a jury trial, awarding of legal fees and an unspecified amount for damages to be awarded if a jury finds in Parrish’s favor.

The civil lawsuit is still in the discovery phase and no trial date has been set. Raleigh Rollins, the Thomasville, Ga., attorney representing Sheriff Griffin in the civil lawsuit, has filed a motion asking a judge to dismiss the civil lawsuit.

Rollins’ motion centers on a legal precedent set in a case called Heck v. Humphrey, which essentially bars persons convicted of a crime from filing a lawsuit in situations where, to win the civil lawsuit, the plaintiff’s conviction would be made false. However, the motion to dismiss was still awaiting a judge’s decision as of May 1.


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