Opening statements given at four deputies’ trial [Updated 8:30 p.m. Wed.]

The following is a summary of the trial of United States vs. Wiley Griffin et al. We are attempting to be as accurate as possible in reporting the trial, given the restrictions on recording equipment within the courtroom. The article contains statements and claims made in court by attorneys and witnesses during the course of opening statements and testimony. Those statements and claims do not represent the views or opinions of or its parent company, Flint Media Inc.

This is Part 1 of 2 for Day 1 – see part 2 here

Prosecutors for the United States government and defense attorneys representing four officers indicted over an incident at the 2012 Bainbridge Bikefest each had their turn to give opening statements on Tuesday morning.

The four defendants are former Grady County Sheriff’s Deputy Wiley Griffin IV and Decatur County Sheriff’s deputies Liz Croley, Chris Kines and Wade Umbach. Griffin and Croley are charged with violating the civil rights of Ronnie Aaron Parrish, a Decatur County man who was injured while Sheriff’s deputies attempted to break up a disturbance at the festival.

Wednesday, May 27 is the first day of the evidence phase of the trial, which is being held at the federal courthouse in Albany, Ga.

Prosecutor Rita Berkower led off opening statements just after 8 a.m. She said, “No one is above the law. It doesn’t matter if you have a badge, a title or even if your father is the Sheriff.” One of the four defendants is Wiley Griffin IV, the son of Decatur County Sheriff Wiley Griffin. The younger Griffin, who formerly worked as a Grady County Sheriff’s deputy, was part of a security detail organized by Sheriff Griffin at the 2012 Bainbridge Bikefest.

The prosecution also claimed Griffin IV told his then-girlfriend and another friend that he was worried he was going to get in trouble for his part in the altercation which injured Aaron Parrish.

Parrish was charged on charges of obstruction of law enforcement and attempting to remove an officer’s weapon. In a 2013 trial, Parrish was convicted of felony obstruction, however he was acquitted on the charge of attempting to remove an officer’s weapon.

Kines and Umbach are accused of filing a false report.

The next opening statement was given by Josh Bell, a Whigham, Ga., attorney who is representing Liz Croley. He said, “The evidence is clear that Aaron Parrish hit Liz Croley and the facts and evidence do not support a cover-up.”

Bell continued, “There was never any intent to cover up anything. She compiled witness statements, her memory [of the incident] and reports of other officers. She never made anything up.”

Wade Umbach’s attorney is Christina Hunt, who is a federal public defender from Macon, Ga. She said Umbach’s accounts of the incident have never changed — not during Parrish’s 2013 trial, not on incident reports and not in his testimony to FBI agents.

“We don’t pay [deputies] enough to put up with drunks who will punch female deputies…especially when a stripper pole is involved,” Hunt said.

Umbach never saw Griffin IV strike Aaron Parrish, according to Umbach’s attorney.

Charles Cox of Macon, Ga., who is representing Wiley Griffin IV, told the jury, “You have to decide who to believe. Who is more credible.”

Some of the prosecution witnesses announced so far are Chip Nix, who was an investigator at the Decatur County Sheriff’s Office at the time of the incident; Carla Parrish, wife of Aaron Parrish, who came to pick him up from Bikefest on the night in question; Joe Mulholland, district attorney for the judicial district which includes Decatur County; and Jim Morris, chief deputy at the Decatur County Sheriff’s Office.

Government’s Witness – Carla Parrish

Carla Parrish testified that her mother-in-law, Aaron Parrish’s mom, called her on the night in question stating that someone had beat up Aaron.

Mrs. Parrish said her husband had gone out to Bikefest sometime between 2 p.m. and 5 p.m. She said her mother-in-law, Jeanne West, called her sometime between 11:30 p.m. and midnight telling her to come get Aaron, because someone had beat him up.

Parrish stated that when she arrived at the tent set up by the Decatur County Sheriff’s Office on the Bikefest grounds, she did not immediately recognize her husband because of his cuts and bruises.

Mrs. Parrish said didn’t think her husband was drunk when she saw him at the Sheriff’s tent and said she didn’t smell alcohol on him. She also said he did not have any bandages on him or any evidence he had been treated.

However, during opening statements, Charles Cox said Parrish was treated by Decatur County EMS, which had a crew stationed at Bikefest. According to defense attorney Cox, the Sheriff’s Office released Aaron Parrish to his wife, after she said she was a nurse.

Parrish said she did not smell alcohol on her husband while at the Bikefest grounds, but in the car with Aaron and his stepfather, she did smell alcohol.

Mrs. Parrish said she took her husband to the emergency room at Memorial Hospital. In the following days, he was seen by two Bainbridge eye doctor, James Cox and Aric Aldridge.  She said it took approximately 2-3 months for her husband’s eye injuries to heal.

The jury was shown a photograph of Mr. Parrish’s injuries after the incident. Mrs. Parrish testified that at least one deputy took photos of Parrish’s injuries at the Sheriff’s Office tent.

Mrs. Parrish said she and her husband went to the Sheriff’s Office in person on the Monday following the incident, to attempt to speak with Sheriff Wiley Griffin III, who was not present. Mrs. Parrish said they wanted to find out why her husband had been treated that way if he had not done anything wrong to be arrested. Aaron Parrish went back to the Sheriff’s Office on Wednesday. Later that day, Aaron Parrish was called by a Sheriff’s deputy and informed that he had two felony warrants for his arrest. Mr. Parrish turned himself in at the Sheriff’s Office early Thursday morning.

Kermit Dorough, the attorney representing Deputy Chris Kines, cross-examined Mrs. Parrish for the defense. He asked Mrs. Parrish if she was familiar with Chip Nix, a former Sheriff’s deputy who was also present during the Bikefest incident. Mrs. Parrish said she had known Nix for several years, and on one occasion after the incident, he he helped her when her truck broke down. She had Nix’s phone number and called him back to thank him.


Government’s Witness – Brenda Stogner

The next witness called was Brenda Stogner, who testified at Parrish’s 2013 trial. Stogner has previously said she was standing near the area where Sheriff’s deputies made contact with Parrish on the night in question.

Stogner said that she was near the camper of Don Green, who had set up a “stripper / dance pole” and a sound system in front of his camper at Bikefest. It was established during Aaron Parrish’s 2013 trial that the area in front of Green’s two campers was a popular party spot and there may have been as many as 100 people nearby at the time of the incident.

Stogner said she had gone between two camper trailers to use the restroom, as she could not use Green’s camper and the nearest portable restroom was not within what she considered to be close walking distance.

Before she could go to the bathroom, Stogner saw a man she later found out was Aaron Parrish.  She said two police officers laid Parrish down on the ground on his stomach and he was wiggling. Then, she saw someone pulling Parrish’s hair back and strike Parrish “five or more” times in the face with a straight, black object about eight inches long.

Stogner testified she didn’t hear Parrish say anything. Then officers put a bloody Parrish in a Sheriff’s Office golf cart.

Stogner said she later learned the man was Aaron Parrish, whom she didn’t previously know, when she met him at someone else’s house approximately 3-4 weeks after Bikefest.

Josh Bell, the defense attorney for Liz Croley, asked her whether she had been drinking or using drugs. Stogner said she had not.

Bell pressed Stogner on a key point: whether or not there was anyone standing in between her and where Parrish was arguing with the deputies. Stogner said some time had passed since the incident, but she did not believe there had been anyone standing between her and where Parrish was.

Bell read from the transcript of Parrish’s trial, in which Stogner testified that there were a few people standing in her line of sight.

Federal public defender Christina Hunt, who is representing Wade Umbach, asked Stogner whether she was able to see anything else surrounding where Parrish was, and Stogner replied that she could not, because of the way the trailers she was standing next to were angled. Defense attorney Kermit Dorough asked Stogner why, if she was standing only about 10-15 feet from Parrish and the deputies, she was unable to hear what they were saying? Stogner replied that the music was loud, but from the expressions on their faces, she assumed there was an argument.

Please see part 2 of our coverage of Day 1 of the trial, featuring the testimony of Sheriff’s Deputy Vincent Edmond.

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