Cops Beat-Up Man, then Charge him with a Felony.

  June 11, 2015
All year, bystander footage of police violence has turned the names of small towns and cities into national headlines: North Charleston, S.C., McKinney, Tex.But in one small city — Bainbridge, Ga. — there were no onlookers with cellphones filming a confrontation between Aaron Parrish and several sheriff’s deputies back in 2012.

Parrish said he was badly beaten in the encounter — grabbed from behind and pulled to the ground, put in a headlock that nearly choked him, hit with a flashlight until his face stung and he could barely remain conscious. At trial, he recalled hearing the flashlight’s batteries rattling in their tube as a deputy slammed it into his head. Parrish’s wife later said that her husband’s face was so disfigured by cuts and bruises that she didn’t recognize him when she picked him up from the sheriff’s office command center.

But when Parrish complained to the sheriff’s department about how he was treated, justice proved elusive.

It turned out that the deputy accused of beating Parrish was the Decatur County Sheriff’s son, Wiley Griffin IV.

Rather than discipline the deputy, the sheriff’s department issued a warrant for Parrish’s arrest.

A year later he was convicted of a felony on trumped-up charges, fined and sentenced to three years of probation. And without video of the incident, no one could prove that the police incident report — that helped lead to Parrish’s conviction — had been falsified, or that a witness account — that could have helped Parrish’s defense — had been removed from his case file.

Instead, it took three years, an FBI investigation and a federal civil rights case to expose this coverup of police violence in Bainbridge.

On Wednesday, a federal jury convicted three Bainbridge sheriff’s deputies of obstructing justice and violating Parrish’s civil rights by lying about the incident to conceal the use of force during Parrish’s arrest.

The case goes back to the evening of Sept. 15, 2012, during an annual motorcycle festival called BikeFest. The event is aimed at raising money for charity, but is also typically raucous. The 2012 festival was no different — an argument had broken out at a party Parrish was attending, according to testimony at trial reported by Bainbridge radio station Sowega Live. Deputies who were on hand to patrol the festival intervened, restraining Parrish’s stepfather because they believed he was involved. Both sides agree that Parrish made his way toward the deputies at that point.

But that’s where the two accounts diverge.

An incident report filed later by Decatur County Captain Elizabeth Croley said that Parrish struck her in the chest and then attempted to grab another deputy’s gun while restrained. It mentioned nothing about Deputy Sheriff Wiley Griffin IV — the son of the Decatur County Sheriff — who allegedly struck Parrish repeatedly in the face.

According to Parrish’s testimony at his own trial, he never hit Croley.

Parrish wasn’t charged with a crime that night, and a few days later, he and his wife went to the sheriff’s office to complain about his treatment at BikeFest. That night, he got a call from a deputy who told him there were two warrants out for his arrest. He turned himself in, according to Sowega Live, and soon found himself facing two felony charges.

During the sheriff’s office’s investigation of the charges, Croley interviewed a witness who said that another man, not Parrish, was the one who struck her, according to a federal indictment. Rather than sharing the exculpatory evidence with the district attorney’s office and Parrish’s defense, she removed it from the file. The records that remained made it seem as though Parrish had been the one to instigate his confrontation with police.

At his trial in 2013, Parrish was cleared of one of the charges — attempting to remove a firearm from Sheriff’s Deputy Robert Wade Umbach — but was found guilty of the second — obstructing an officer.

But that fall, according to Sowega Live, the FBI began looking into the sheriff’s office’s handling of the incident. When they asked two deputies involved, Umbach and Christopher Kines, about the confrontation, both lied and said that Parrish had started the fight by hitting Croley, according to the indictment. Neither mentioned that Griffin IV had been involved.

The following July, a grand jury charged Croley, Umbach, Kines and Griffin IV with seven counts of civil rights violations and obstruction of justice.

A few months later, Parrish filed his own civil lawsuit against various members of the sheriff’s department and the Decatur County Board of Commissioners.

The verdict issued Wednesday involved the Justice Department’s criminal case, not Parrish’s civil suit. Griffin IV, the deputy accused of using excessive force against Parrish, was acquitted of the civil rights charge against him. Umbach and Kines were also found not guilty of writing false reports.

But both were convicted of giving misleading statements to the FBI and face up to 20 years in prison. Croley was convicted of both counts against her — filing a false report and violating Parrish’s right to a fair trial by withholding exculpatory evidence. She faces a 20-year sentence on the first count and one year for the second.

Parrish, who is still going forward with his civil lawsuit against the deputies and the county, told the Bainbridge Post-Searchlight that “90 percent” of justice had been served.

“From day one I have been in this,” Parrish said. “It’s surely not about putting somebody in prison or giving somebody a charge they didn’t deserve, but right is right. Somebody has to stand up at some point for justice.”

 

June 11, 2015, “Small town coverup of deputy’s use-of-force shows what can happen when there are no videos”, Washington Post, https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/morning-mix/wp/2015/06/11/small-town-cover-up-of-police-brutality-shows-what-can-happen-when-there-are-no-videos/
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