A Murray woman pleaded not guilty Tuesday in Calloway County District Court following a grand jury charging her with falsely reporting an incident during a protest near a Confederate monument in downtown Murray.
An indictment for the Class A misdemeanor from last month states Linda Arakelyan knowingly and falsely told 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.
A social media video appears to show a man spraying water on protesters next to a Confederate monument in downtown Murray, in which Arakelyan and Forrest briefly make physical contact.
Attorney Chris Hendricks, who’s representing Arakelyan, said the video shows the incident in question happened in a matter of seconds, and it’s reasonable to believe she mistakenly thought she was slapped as she was being sprayed with water.
“The real question here is if she knowingly provided a false statement to police when she filled out her affidavit,” Hendricks said. “She was attempting to defend herself from this water being sprayed directly in her face and made incidental contact with him. There’s no intent.”
He said the video shows Arakelyan and Forrest briefly making contact, with Forrest pulling his arm away from her. Hendricks added he is talking with the county attorney to see if the case can be settled without going to trial.
County Attorney Bryan Ernstberger said Tuesday he previously rejected two Murray Police Department (MPD) requests to charge Forrest with a violation of harassment because he didn’t believe the requests articulated probable cause for the charge. Ernstberger said he then decided to introduce evidence to a Calloway County grand jury to determine if any charges to anyone should come from the incident.
“[Jurors] were made aware of the elements, and intent is one of the elements. And so, obviously they determined that there was probable cause to believe that the acts were done with intent,” Ernstberger said.
Ernstberger said the grand jury reviewed videos of the incident along with testimony by a MPD officer. MPD Sgt. Andrew Wiggins in a statement said the department only pursued charges against Forrest and no one else.
In an interview Tuesday, Forrest told WKMS he meant to only spray off the chalk drawings made by protesters on the sidewalk when Arakelyan jumped in his way. He also said Arakelyan slapped him, which Hendricks refutes.
“It says in the newspaper that the lawyer said it happened in a split second. Well, a lot of crimes happen in a split second, but you have to know what you’re doing,” Forrest said, referring to the Murray Ledger and Times article that initially reported on the indictment. “I never touched her. I sprayed around her, over her, under her, on each side, and she put her hands up in front of the stream to block it.”
Forrest said he wishes Arakelyan well, but wants a public apology from Arakelyan for ruining his reputation. The pretrial conference for the case is Nov. 10.