This is the story that explains why more and more Americans subscribe to the motto: Always Record the Police.
Ronnie “Aaron” Parrish was badly beaten and wrongly convicted during a motorcycle festival in Georgia. A single cell phone video could have ended his personal nightmare. But nobody was recording.
The nightmare began in September 2012 when Grady County sheriff’s deputy Wiley Griffin IV – the son of Decatur County Sheriff Wiley Griffin III – was not caught on camera beating Ronnie Aaron Parrish after Parrish had walked up to a group of law enforcement officers arresting his stepfather for fighting.
Although Griffin had grabbed Parrish from behind, pulled him to the ground, put him in a choking headlock and bashed Parrish’s face in with a flashlight while other deputies held him down, it was Parrish who was charged with two felonies.
The unifying and lying word of three Decatur County deputies about Parrish’s beating at Bainbridge BikeFest – including from one deputy who claimed he struck her – was enough to remove Griffin from scrutiny and charge Parish for felony obstruction as well as attempting to take a deputy’s gun. He was convicted of obstruction the following year and sentenced to three years probation.
But then a witness statement sparked a federal investigation, resulting in indictments against the four deputies involved last year.
Last Wednesday, after three years, an FBI investigation and a federal civil rights case, justice was finally served when a federal jury convicted the three Decatur County deputies for obstructing justice and violating Parrish’s civil rights by lying about the incident in order to hide the use of force during Parrish’s arrest.
They are each facing up to 20 years in prison, but have not been sentenced yet.
Not convicted was Griffin, the Grady County deputy who landed Parrish in the hospital with his flashlight.
Initially, Parrish was not charged with a crime for being savagely beaten and having his face so disfigured by cuts and bruises that his wife did not recognize him when she picked him up from a sheriff’s command center.
But a few days after the beating, Parrish and his wife went to the sheriff’s office to complain. That night, he received a call from a deputy who told Parrish there were two warrants out for his arrest. He quickly turned himself in.
The feds began investigating in September 2013 following statements from a witness that contradicted statements from the deputies. A statement that was purposely removed by Decatur County Sheriff’s Captain Elizabeth Croley from Parrish’s case file before his trial.
During a trial that lasted more than two weeks, the jury heard evidence that Griffin struck Parrish in the eye with a metal flashlight while Parrish was being restrained on the ground by other deputies, including Kines and Umbach. The government presented evidence that Captain Croley and Deputies Kines and Umbach then helped cover up the incident by, among other things, Croley writing a false report and Kines and Umbach misleading the FBI by stating that they did not see Griffin at the scene.
The government also presented evidence that, after Parrish complained to the Decatur County Sheriff’s Office about the abuse he had suffered at BikeFest, the Sheriff’s Office opened a criminal investigation led by Croley that eventually resulted in felony criminal charges against Parrish. During that investigation, Croley took a witness statement from a civilian eyewitness who provided information that would have been materially helpful to Parrish’s defense. However, rather than providing that statement to the District Attorney so that it could then be provided to Parrish’s defense attorney for use at trial, Croley intentionally removed the exculpatory statement from the case file. This conduct formed the basis of the civil rights charge on which defendant Croley was convicted.
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.
“As the jury recognized through its verdict, there are serious consequences when law enforcement officers lie to cover up the misconduct of a fellow officer and when an officer intentionally stacks the deck against an accused person by hiding evidence that could show the person’s innocence,” said Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Vanita Gupta of the Civil Rights Division. “When officers engage in this type of outrageous behavior, the Department of Justice stands ready to enforce the law and protect the civil rights of all Americans.”
Parrish has filed his own civil lawsuit against various members of the sheriff’s department and the Decatur County Board of Commissioners.
“From day one I have been in this,” Parrish told the Post-Searchlight. “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.”
The growing group of Americans who have decided to record the police are seeking justice proactively. By recording the police, copwatchers provide the evidence needed to refute any lies invented by corrupt officers covering for each other. Had Parish’s arrest been caught on camera, he could have avoided a wrongful conviction, and immediately exposed the outrageous actions of deputy Griffin – who unjustifiably emerged unscathed from the entire ordeal.