Black Lives Matter movements and demonstrations in opposition to systemic racism swept across the nation most of this year, and the small town of Murray, Kentucky joined in the conversation. Multiple protests centered around the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement, but also a Confederate monument which still stands in a prominent location in the downtown court square. As a result of the demonstrations, two locals face charges: Linda Arakelyan, a woman who’s charged with false reporting, and David Frymire, a man who’s charged with spraying protesters with mace. Both appeared in court this week.
Chris Hendricks, a Murray attorney who’s representing Arakelyan, requested Calloway District Judge Randall Hutchens set a jury trial after the first of the year during this week’s hearing. Hutchens said because the county classifies as a critical ‘red zone’ for coronavirus spread, he’s unable to call a jury. He said he won’t be able to schedule a jury trial until the county levels out of the red zone classification, and scheduled a status hearing for Dec. 15.
Arakelyan pleaded not guilty to the charge of false reporting, a Class A misdemeanor. She was indicted by a grand jury and charged with falsely reporting to law enforcement in August that William “Sandy” Forrest slapped her hand. A person can be guilty of “falsely reporting an incident” for several reasons, including if a person brings law enforcement information regarding an offense when a person knows they don’t have information, or when a person reports an offense or incident knowing it didn’t occur, according to KRS 519.040.
The alleged false report was the result of an incident, caught on video by bystanders, in which Forrest used a water hose to spray the sidewalk and spray protesters who drew on the sidewalk with chalk. The incident happened just outside the county courthouse in Murray’s downtown square, near the Confederate monument the group was actively protesting.
Hendricks told WKMS it’s not an extraordinarily complicated case. He said the crux of the case comes down to whether or not the jury believes that, under the circumstances, Arakelyan made that statement, knowing it was false.
“Based on the evidence, I don't believe it was false at all. I believe it. I think it's reasonable for a person in her situation, under the circumstances she was experiencing at that time, to believe that that occurred. Even if a jury does not believe that that occurred, I don't think that they can prove that she did so knowingly, because she was being sprayed in the face with a water hose,” he explained. “And she had her hand up trying to block the spray of the water from spraying her in the face. From the moment she starts getting sprayed until he stops spraying her is less than a second. So, you know, who knows what she believed.”
Hendricks also told WKMS he’s not concerned about presenting to a jury after a grand jury issued the indictment, because the jury who decides if Arakelyan is guilty or not will review all of the facts and evidence, not cherry-picked.
“A grand jury does not have the benefit of cross examination, of prosecution witnesses; doesn't have the benefit of a defense attorney’s arguments or explanations of evidence,” he explained. “A grand jury is one-sided. A grand jury is what a prosecutor wants it to be. So, no, I'm not worried about that.”
A grassroots movement headed by the local, women-led West KY NOW group has taken a special interest in Arakelyan’s case as several members of the larger community take issue with Arakelyan facing charges and the man they view as her attacker, facing none.
The local chapter of the National Organization for Women issued a written statement to WKMS saying the group “has great concern about the charge brought against Linda Arakelyan.” The statement recalls the event as a “rightful assembly” during which Forrest “turned on peaceful citizens, mostly local young women, hosing them in the face at close range.” Arakelyan, 22, was among them.
According to the statement, Arakelyan is a college student who returned home for the summer and spent that time “peacefully protesting the Confederate monument at her hometown’s courthouse” and is now facing trial.
The statement includes a list of questions including: “Why is the man who sprayed water from a hose at these community members not being charged in this case? How did the grand jury decide that Linda [Arakelyan] had falsified her report? Why is the attempt to make Linda look to be a liar in this situation?”
“As an organization who stands up to injustices, we cannot sit back and allow this attack on women to go ignored,” the statement reads in part. “We urge those in power to drop the charges. That no more time, nor taxpayer dollars, be spent on this occurrence. If the court has chosen not to charge the agitator in this incident, then the charges need to be dropped.”
Calloway County Attorney Bryan Ernstberger, who’s prosecuting the case, told WKMS a charge of false reporting is “not uncommon, but it’s not common either.”
“It’s not something we get as much as, say, assault fourth degree, domestic violence, a DUI or something like that but it’s not an uncommon charge,” Ernstberger said.
Ernstberger said the grand jury considered a multitude of charges in the case, both against Arakelyan and Forrest, the man who allegedly sprayed Arakelyan with a water hose. The grand jury only found probable cause to indict Arakelyan on the false reporting charge.
“I viewed the two videos that were brought to me by the officer, read her report, and also read the affidavits and I attempted to identify every potential crime that might have been warranted out of that series of events, and presented everything to the grand jury to let them decide what they wanted,” Ernstberger explained.
He also said he “would not present something to the grand jury if [he] thought it would be objectively unreasonable for them to find probable cause.”
42nd Circuit Court Judge Jamie Jameson heard from Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney James Burkeen and Marc Wells, the Princeton-based attorney representing Davie Frymire, who allegedly sprayed protesters with mace. Both sides negotiated which documents and information should be included in discovery during an evidentiary hearing Thursday. The next court hearing is scheduled for early January.
Commonwealth’s Attorney Dennis Foust told WKMS the only charges his office presented to the grand jury were those previously reviewed in Calloway District Court. And all of those charges focused on Frymire, he said.
Regarding the Arakelyan case, Foust told WKMS he thought it was unusual Ernstberger didn’t present charges against Arakelyan in district court that he later presented to the grand jury. But he said Ernstberger presenting charges against both parties to the grand jury was “not the norm, but it does happen.” He said that method is often utilized “out of an abundance of caution.”
“When a prosecutor isn’t convinced one way or the other, they will let the grand jury hear evidence. It’s not the norm, but it does happen from time to time,” he explained.
Foust said he couldn’t comment further regarding potential charges in the Frymire case since his office is still in the process of prosecuting the case, but he noted that if his team discovered other felony charges related to the case, they could bring those at any time.
Dalton York and Liam Niemeyer contributed to this story.