Originally published on June 13, 2015, at NationofChange.org
Three sheriff’s deputies were convicted this week of obstructing justice by covering up an incident in which a fellow officer repeatedly beat a restrained suspect in the eye with a metal flashlight. Due to the fact that the officer is also the son of a local sheriff, the deputies filed false police reports to conceal his actions and were caught lying to FBI agents. Although three deputies have been convicted of participating in the cover-up, the same federal jury in Georgia acquitted the sheriff’s son of excessive force.
On the evening of September 15, 2012, Aaron Parrish was visiting the annual motorcycle rally at the Bainbridge BikeFest with his family when his stepfather got into a minor altercation with local police. As Parrish approached the deputies, he was grabbed from behind and thrown to the ground. Deputies placed Parrish in a chokehold as Grady County Deputy Wiley Griffin, IV—who is the son of Decatur County Sheriff Wiley Griffin, III—struck Parrish in the face multiple times with a metal flashlight.
According to Decatur County Captain Elizabeth Croley’s incident report, Parrish struck her in the chest as officers were placing his stepfather in custody. Cpt. Croley claimed that Deputy Robert Wade Umbach, BikeFest security Macon Moore, and a citizen named Norma McIntyre witnessed Parrish strike her before deputies subdued him. Croley also reported that Parrish had attempted to grab Deputy Umbach’s gun while restrained and their Tasers had no effect on him. Her report does not mention Deputy Griffin’s name or his actions against Parrish.
Parrish’s wife almost did not recognize her husband’s bruised and bloodied face when she picked him up from the Sheriff’s Office Command Center. Parrish was not charged with a crime that night and was immediately released. But when Parrish and his wife filed a complaint at the sheriff’s office a few days later, Parrish was charged several hours later with obstructing an officer and attempting to remove a deputy’s firearm.
But one of Capt. Croley’s witnesses submitted a written statement asserting that Parrish was not the individual who struck Croley in the chest. The civilian witness identified a different individual as the person who hit Croley that night and also identified Deputy Griffin as the officer who battered Parrish’s face. By altering the civilian witness’ statements, Croley falsified her police report to intentionally withhold exculpatory evidence from the District Attorney’s Office.
Although Parrish was cleared in 2013 of attempting to grab Deputy Umbach’s gun, the false evidence against him led to his conviction of obstructing an officer. Later that year, the FBI began investigating the incident and interviewing the deputies involved. Deputies Christopher Kines and Umbach, who held Parrish down as Griffin beat him, lied to FBI agents by covering up Griffin’s involvement and supporting Croley’s false narrative.
On July 9, 2014, a grand jury charged deputies Umbach, Kines, and Capt. Croley with deprivation of rights under color of law, filing a false police report, and tampering with a witness. Deputy Griffin was charged with violating Parrish’s civil rights by using excessive force against him but was acquitted on Wednesday. Kines and Umbach were acquitted of obstructing justice by writing false police reports but were convicted of lying to the FBI. They each face maximum sentences of 20 years for making misleading statements to the FBI.
Croley was convicted of writing a false incident report and violating Parrish’s constitutionally protected right to a fair trial by intentionally withholding evidence. She faces a maximum sentence of 20 years for her false report and one year for the civil rights violation involving hiding exculpatory evidence.
On Thursday, Decatur County Sheriff Wiley Griffin confirmed that deputies Umbach, Kines, and Croley have been fired. Parrish has filed a civil lawsuit against the deputies and the county for violating his rights.