Trial aftermath: 3 convicted deputies lose jobs, guns

Three former Decatur County Sheriff’s deputies who were convicted this week of federal crimes have lost their jobs, and also had to surrender their firearms.

WALB quoted Sheriff Wiley Griffin as saying Thursday that he had let go Liz Croley, Chris Kines and Wade Umbach, who were each convicted June 10 of federal offenses stemming from an FBI investigation into an incident at the 2012 Bainbridge Bikefest.

Croley was found guilty by the jury on the charges of depriving the civil rights of Aaron Parrish (specifically, his right to a fair trial) and was also found guilty of making false entries in a report. According to the federal indictments, Croley was accused of failing to provide the district attorney or Parrish’s defense attorney, Autumn Webster, with a witness statement that could have helped Parrish in his Feb. 2013 trial.

Croley, who wrote the main incident report in connection with what happened at the 2012 Bainbridge Bikefest, was also accused of leaving out the name of Wiley Griffin IV in her incident report and falsely stating that witness Norma McIntyre said she saw Parrish strike Croley, when in reality McIntyre wrote a statement saying she saw Mike Green, not Parrish, strike Croley.

The jury found Kines and Umbach not guilty of making false entries in a report, but found them guilty of tampering with a witness. The specific allegation was that when they voluntarily participated in interviews with FBI agents, they said Wiley Griffin IV was not involved in the incident which injured Parrish. On audio tapes played for the jury, Kines said he was the only one who struck Parrish and maintained he did not see Griffin; while Umbach said Griffin was standing nearby while Parrish was being handcuffed, but the only time Umbach saw Griffin IV touch Parrish was when Parrish was being led over to a golf cart after being handcuffed.

The day following their convictions, it was announced that Croley, Kines and Umbach were no longer employed with the Sheriff’s Office.

Croley, Kines and Umbach had all been assigned to desk duties after being indicted by a federal grand jury in July 2014. Umbach had worked at the University of North Georgia-Gainesville campus as a campus police officer and maintenance worker following his time as a Decatur County Sheriff’s deputy. He was re-hired in September 2014 and assigned to a maintenance-related duty.

Following the jury’s return of verdicts on the 7 counts on Wednesday, Wiley Griffin IV was discharged from court with no further requirements. However, Croley, Kines and Umbach were given several conditions for their release until they are sentenced.

Judge Louis Sands told each of the three that they were to cooperate with the federal probation office and keep in contact with their attorneys, so that they show up for their sentencing hearing. No hearing has been set for sentencing yet, an employee of the federal Clerk of Court in Albany said Thursday.

In addition, the U.S. attorneys who prosecuted the case asked for and were granted additional conditions for the release; Croley, Kines and Umbach have to surrender all of their firearms, including their service weapons, must surrender their passports and report to the federal probation office.

U.S. Attorney Risa Berkower also asked Judge Sands to notify each of the convicted of a federal law that prohibits “retaliates or takes any action harmful to any person, including interference with the lawful employment or livelihood of any person, for providing to a law enforcement officer any truthful information relating to the commission or possible commission of any Federal offense.”

What’s next

At sentencing, Croley will face a maximum sentence of 20 years for her false report and one year for the civil rights violation involving hiding exculpatory evidence. Kines and Umbach face maximum sentences of 20 years for making misleading statements to the FBI.

In addition to waiting on a sentencing hearing to be scheduled, the attorneys for Croley, Kines and Umbach are also waiting on Judge Sands to issue a final ruling on what are known as Rule 29 motions.

After the prosecution rested its case, attorneys for all four defendants in the trial filed motions asking Judge Sands to acquit the defendants, despite the verdict. Essentially, the motions argue that there was insufficient evidence presented by the prosecution that would enable a jury to make a reasonable judgement on several of the counts. If the judge were to grant the motions, he would set aside the jury’s verdict on a specific count and the defendant would be acquitted on that count.

However, our research on Rule 29 motions indicates that they are not usually granted by judges.

It’s also possible that the attorneys for Croley, Kines and Umbach can appeal their clients’ convictions to a higher U.S. court. At least one of the attorneys, Christina Hunt–a federal public defender who represents Wade Umbach–indicated that she might file an appeal.

Hunt asked Judge Sands to require the U.S. Department of Justice to preserve notes that FBI Agent Steve McDermond took during interviews with Croley, Kines and Umbach. Judge Sands granted the motion, but denied an earlier motion in which the defense attorneys sought to have the notes made evidence in the trial.

The FBI agent’s notes became an issue after he stated he wrote summaries of his interviews with Croley, Kines and Umbach based on the agent’s memory and written notes.

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