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 Sowegalive.com or its parent company, Flint Media Inc.
One of the important parts of the trial in Albany, Ga., so far was the appearance of Ronnie Aaron Parrish on the witness stand on Friday, May 29.
Parrish, who goes by “Aaron,” suffered injuries to his eye and face after an incident at Bainbridge Bikefest on Sept. 8-9, 2012. Three current Decatur County Sheriff’s deputies and one former Grady County Sheriff’s Office deputy are on trial in a federal court in connection with the Bikefest incident.
For the first time, Parrish testified in court about what happened to him that Saturday night at Bikefest.
Parrish said he drove his truck to Bikefest sometime between 1-3 p.m. on Saturday. One of the reasons he was going to Bikefest that night was to help a female cousin sell raffle tickets for a quilt, the proceeds of which were going to charity. Parrish said many of his friends and relatives were also going to Bikefest that night, including his mother, Jeanne West, her husband, Mark West, and Aaron’s cousin Don Green and his wife Carrie.
Under cross-examination by defense attorney Kermit Dorough, who is representing Chris Kines, Parrish said he had put a cooler containing a 12-pack of Natural Light beer in the back of his truck. When he arrived at Bikefest, he parked his truck next to a camper set up by a well-known Bikefest volunteer called “Too Tall.” Parrish then walked and found his cousin, who was driving a golf cart. Together, they rode around Bikefest for a while selling tickets for the quilt raffle to festival attendees.
After about an hour, Parrish said they stopped by Don Green’s party area, which he described as being an RV, a music system and speakers set up next to a hauling trailer, and a wooden platform with a dance pole embedded in the platform.
In response to defense attorney’s questions, Parrish said when he stopped by Green’s camper the first time, he moved his cooler from truck to beside’s Green’s camper. That was about an hour or two after he arrived at Bikefest, he testified in response to defense attorney Christina Hunt.
Parrish said he also took out 2 cans of beer to take with him, as he continued to ride around on the golf cart with his cousin. Parrish said they made several loops around the large Bikefest grounds, and that more than once, he stopped by Green’s camper to get additional cans of beer.
At one point, still before dark, Parrish discovered that his 12-pack of beer had no cans remaining. He testified it may have been possible that someone else also could have grabbed some of the beers when he wasn’t present.
Not long after, Aaron’s cousin Don approached him in a friendly manner and essentially suggested that Aaron “might want to slow down” his drinking and eat something.
Parrish said he ate a full plate of food Green provided, including two grilled chicken quarters and baked beans. He also had a second plate of just chicken. After eating and drinking some water, Parrish testified he “felt better” and no longer “felt drunk.”
Parrish describes being grabbed by other men
Parrish said he drank just water for the rest of the evening. He estimated that about 5-6 hours after eating, he was standing near Green’s camper with a group of other people when he heard his mom, Jeanne West, cry out.
West testified earlier in the trial that after she and her husband attempted to calm down another couple’s argument, they were walking near Green’s camper when Mark West was grabbed by a deputy and forced to the ground. West said she didn’t know why her husband was grabbed (by a man that she claimed she didn’t immediately recognize was a deputy), other than they might have seen her place her hands on her husband’s chest to coax him away from returning to where the other couple had been arguing. Mrs. West maintained that she and her husband were not fighting, just walking, when her husband was grabbed.
Mrs. West testified she yelled out, “Oh God, Oh God, Aaron, they’ve got Mark!” On Friday, Aaron Parrish described his mother’s exclamation as high-pitched and upset in tone. Aaron said he turned to look for his mom, then turned his body to look where she was pointing at his stepfather lying on the ground with a man on top of him.
Parrish testified he began walking toward his stepfather. As he walked, he used his hands to move people out of the way.
“Were you in a hurry?” defense attorney Christina Hunt asked Parrish. “No, I was not pushing anyone. I was moving people out of my way politely,” Parrish said, showing how he spread his hands out in front of him, his palms facing away from his body.
But he said he did not hit Croley, and at the time he did not know that deputies were in the area around the camper.
Parrish said he was walking quickly to get to where his stepfather was, and see if he could help or see what the matter was.
After taking a few steps, someone unknown to Parrish came up from behind him and began pulling on his arms. He testified it felt like there were two people tugging on his arms, trying to pull him back. Parrish said he was trying to pull loose from their grasp, and then felt someone jump on his back. He said the person who jumped on his back punched him in the forehead, and said the blow “dazed him” and blurred his vision.
Parrish continued walking another 4-5 steps. In response to prosecutor Christine Siscaretti’s questions, Parrish said he didn’t hear anyone saying anything to him and he claimed he didn’t know who the men holding on to him were.
Soon after, Parrish was pulled to the ground. He said someone put him in a head lock, and said he felt like he was being choked. Parrish said he could not move his arms or legs, which were still being held down, and could only move his head around in an attempt to get out of the head lock, as he felt he was about to pass out.
At about that time, someone unknown to him hit him on the right side of his face with a flashlight, Parrish testified.
How did he know it was a flashlight? Parrish testified he could hear something that sounded like batteries shaking around in a flashlight tube as he was struck, and knew that he was being hit with something more forceful than a fist.
After the first strike from the flashlight, Parrish testified he felt the head lock loosen some, but testified someone continued to hit him in the face with a flashlight, causing his face to have a “stinging” sensation. Parrish said he counted at least three strikes from the flashlight. Parrish said he felt dazed and fought to remain conscious.
Did he do anything with his hands while being hit with the flashlight? Attorney Siscaretti asked. Parrish said his hands were behind him. Parrish also denied attempting to grab for a gun and said from his position, lying face down with his head face turned up, he could not see if anyone had a gun. Parrish said he did not attempt to punch or kick anyone.
After the strikes from the flashlight ended, Parrish said he felt himself pulled up to his knees and placed in handcuffs.
Parrish said that as he opened his eyes, he saw Chip Nix and Wendell Cofer of the Sheriff’s Office standing at the edge of a crowd that had gathered around where Parrish and the men holding him were located.
Parrish said he began crying and asked Nix what he had done wrong. Parrish said he realized his face was injured when Nix told him he was bleeding from his eye. As Parrish was taken to a command center tent set up by the Sheriff’s Office, Parrish said he began feeling a throbbing pain in his face.
Once at the command center, Parrish said he was having trouble focusing his vision, and said he didn’t remember much of what happened there. Aaron’s wife Carla, who had been called by Aaron’s mother soon after the incident, arrived at the command center and he was released to her custody.
Defense attorneys asked Parrish whether he remembered if emergency medical personnel stationed at Bikefest had come to look at his injuries. Nix previously testified he had radioed for EMS to come to the command center after the incident.
Hunt asked Parrish if he had refused treatment or told them to get away from him.
Parrish testified he didn’t remember seeing EMS or speaking with them.
What Parrish did in days following the incident
Parrish’s wife took him to the ER for treatment. On Monday, Aaron and Carla went to the Sheriff’s Office intending to speak with Sheriff Griffin about what had happened, however upon arriving, they were told the Sheriff was unavailable, but would return “2-3 days later.”
One day that week, Parrish’s wife took him to see an eye doctor, Dr. James Cox, who referred him to an eye specialist, Dr. Aric Aldridge. Parrish said he remembered seeing Dr. Aldridge soon after.
The U.S. attorneys filed a document with the court on May 28 giving notice that they intend to call Dr. Aldridge as an expert witness sometime next week. In the same document, the prosecution also gave notice that they intend to call a Grady County law enforcement officer who trained Wiley Griffin IV on use of force, as a non-expert witness.
Parrish said he and his wife returned to the Sheriff’s Office on about Wednesday following Bikefest. He first talked with Sheriff Griffin, and then talked with Wendell Cofer. After the meeting, Parrish went home. That night, he received a call from a Sheriff’s deputy who told him that the Sheriff’s Office had two warrants for his arrest on felony charges of obstruction of a law enforcement officer and attempting to remove an officer’s weapon.
Parrish testified the deputy told him that he either needed to turn himself in, or deputies would have to come get him. The following morning, on Thursday, Parrish turned himself in at the Sheriff’s Office.
Hunt also asked Parrish about the civil lawsuit he filed in 2014, which names the four defendants in the criminal trial, as well as Wendell Cofer and Sheriff Griffin (who are not defendants in the criminal case) and Decatur County commissioners.
“In your lawsuit, did you ask for damages?” Hunt asked.
“That’s part of it,” Parrish replied.
Does the lawsuit seek to get money out of each individual person? Hunt asked.
“That’s correct,” Parrish replied.
At another point in cross-examination, Parrish was asked if anyone had prompted him to call the FBI after he was convicted of obstruction. Parrish said no one had told him to call. At some point, he decided to seek help from the FBI. Parrish testified under cross-examination that he received the number of an FBI agent from Frank Green. Green is the current Deputy Director of Bainbridge Public Safety.