City of Temple, Bell County taxpayers funding questionable arrests, prosecutions (TX)

Bell County taxpayers took another financial hit with regard to the C.J. Grisham prosecution as the Texas soldier whose March 16 arrest by Temple police spawned a viral video now prompted a three-hour pre-trial hearing Wednesday before a full courtroom that included supporters and gun rights advocates as well as other observers including local attorneys and numerous county employees.

A group of Grisham supporters peacefully gathered outside the Bell County Justice Center protesting Grisham’s arrest and exercising their legal right to open carry also provided the county opportunity to further expend taxpayer resources by posting deputies at the Justice Center parking lot entrance to stop drivers and inquire as to their purpose on the premises. County officials were reportedly at the Justice Center entrance soliciting feedback if those entering would have felt intimidated by the individuals carrying weapons if they were outside the courthouse door instead of being relegated to the corner of Huey Road and Loop 121.

Grisham was arrested as he and his 15-year-old son, Chris, were on a 10-mile hike, a requirement for the younger Grisham’s Eagle Scout hiking merit badge. In response to reportedly receiving a “man with a gun” call from the city’s outskirts, Temple Police Officer Steve Ermis approached the pair asking Grisham what they were doing, the reason for his being armed and then allegedly tried to grab Grisham’s rifle.

The  viral video associated with this arrest was filmed first by Grisham and then his son, but dashcam video of the arrest also exists – video evidence to which Grisham and his defense team are undeniably entitled. Nonetheless, the Bell County Attorney’s Office elected to delay its release until a May 15 hearing at which a visiting judge, retired Harris County Judge Neel Richardson, ordered release of the two police videos and audio of the non-emergency call prompting the incident, but cautioned Grisham attorney Kurt Glass against sharing the materials with the media or posting the content on social media or other internet sites.

Wednesday’s hearing addressed a defense motion to suppress the arrest. A ruling on the motion will come sometime after next week when defense co-counsel Paul Harrell submits an additional brief arguing against case law used by the county’s attorney, Mark Danford. If the motion is granted, the arrest no longer stands and the consequent charges are no longer applicable. If the motion is denied, the case moves forward to trial, presumably in mid- to late September.

Also discussed at the hearing was a defense motion for discovery of additional exculpatory evidence not previously provided to the defense. With this, a recording of the non-emergency call to police regarding Grisham’s roadside presence and the police dash cam video documenting the arrest were played in open court.

Per the Temple Daily Telegram, the original caller, a woman, reported a couple walking west on Airport Road. She termed one carrying some kind of gun as “odd” and further offered she thought they were white with one being a woman. The man, she said, was carrying the weapon, but not waving it around.

Ermis later testified being unaware at the time of the incident that the call was a non-emergency report opposed to coming through a 911 dispatcher.

The Telegram further reports:

Both the prosecution and defense questioned Ermis on why Grisham was arrested and the process used in the arrest. Ermis said he tried to take the weapon from Grisham because of the way he was carrying the rifle, in front in a combat-type position, which merited a charge of disorderly conduct displaying a firearm.

Ermis said he felt he was in danger while approaching Grisham and felt threatened when he saw the weapon Grisham was carrying. However, the defense later pointed out that Ermis didn’t tell Grisham he was a Temple Police officer or give his name. Ermis also testified he didn’t check to see if Grisham could legally carry the rifle and concealed handgun before arresting him. Debate also centered on where Grisham’s hands were during the entire process.

In a new twist, county prosecutors also argued that Grisham could have been arrested for a traffic violation of walking on the wrong side of the road. Though this potential was not mentioned in the police report, Danford said Grisham was subject to arrest on this Class C traffic offense. Instead, the initial charge of resisting arrest, search or transportation has now been reduced to interfering with an officer’s duty.

With regard to Grisham’s weapon, the Telegram also noted:

Ermis said he didn’t know if a round was chambered or if the rifle was even loaded during the stop. He said the rifle wasn’t checked at the arrest scene, but he found there was no round in the chamber once he reached the police station. Harrell asked if the safety switch was on or off, but Ermis didn’t check during the arrest, only at the police department. The safety was on there, but Ermis said another officer who arrived later at the scene could have done that for safety reasons.

Harrell said there was no probable cause to arrest Grisham and no facts to prove reasonable suspicion, plus no offense had been committed. The video proved Ermis told Grisham twice early during the encounter that if he had done nothing wrong and legally possessed the weapons, he would be released, Harrell said.

If Ermis truly felt “danger” or some “threat,” why such an incomplete investigation of Grisham’s weapon?

Grisham appears to have been arrested for not complying with an officer’s investigation though reasonable suspicion to his alleged criminal misdeeds is unclear. And his worst infraction was walking on the wrong side of the road? How many public dollars were spent coming up with that one?

This case has undoubtedly brought unnecessary expense or diversion of taxpayer resources while seriously harming the perception of the government entities involved.

The city of Temple is increasingly seen by some residents as protectionist with regard to its own reputation and police officers. Increased security and new signage at city council meetings suggest the city positioning a segment of citizens lawfully exercising their Second Amendment and free speech rights instead as public threats.  One city attorney demonstrated what can only be characterized as contempt for those seeking to utilize their right to public information. And city of Temple residents remain financially liable for civil litigation this arrest could still bring.

Meanwhile, Bell County has vigorously put forward its own resistance to transparency while pursuing Grisham’s prosecution. The delay in releasing the dashcam video and audio recording of the original non-emergency call to police generated needless expense not only for Grisham, but also for taxpayers as county attorney employees spent taxpayer-funded work hours on the back and forth of denying the informational release and ultimately a hearing in which the outcome was required by law.

That May hearing included what appeared as increased security due again to a seemingly government-sponsored narrative seeking to characterize those utilizing constitutional rights to express concern regarding government actions as some type of troublemakers. Wednesday was another not inexpensive three-hour hearing that included hours spent in preparation, county personnel in attendance and again, heightened security meaning increased officers on site. All at taxpayer expense.

And regarding the “troublemakers.” Problem seems the trouble being caused is the questioning of government that is potentially abusing citizens while overstepping its authority and then appearing to continue such behavior in attempting to cover up inappropriate actions. The playing field appears set quite unevenly with not all appreciating some involuntary participants and observers crying foul.

With regard to the Bell County Attorney’s office pursuit of Grisham’s prosecution, Glass said, “We need someone in that office who is accountable to the taxpayers.”

That position becomes even more viable when looking at other cases also currently at issue involving both the Temple Police Department and the Bell County. The May 18 arrest of 15-year-old Lorenzo Martinez by TPD officers at a local Wal-Mart is the latest questionable arrest to come to light. In allegedly investigating the three officers involved in Martinez’s detainment during which he received a fractured clavicle, the Bell County District Attorney’s office called Martinez to testify before a Bell County grand jury in a seemingly odd who’s being investigated – the wronged or the wrongdoers – move.

Weeks later, investigation results of the May incident are, per a police spokesperson, expected “soon.” This case also has diverted resources from productive government operations, created further questions regarding public safety and the integrity of public employees and positioned taxpayers for new liability through potential civil litigation related to this case.

Meanwhile, the Matthew Sibley case is scheduled for a late-August trial. Sibley was arrested by Temple police in December 2012 after several alleged traffic violations prompted pursuit by police while he was en route to Scott & White Memorial Hospital to visit his dying brother. Sibley appears to have been a casualty of Grisham’s arrest through his also being represented by Glass.

On the same day as Grisham’s May hearing to release dashcam video, Glass appeared before County Court-at-Law #2 Judge John Mischtian requesting release of the video and speaking of the five-month delay in receiving this evidence. Glass also noted having to make a formal request violated his client’s Sixth Amendment right to counsel as it appeared representation by him (Glass) was subjecting Sibley to prejudice potentially arising from the Grisham case.

The video was ordered release, but again – at unnecessary expense to which Sibley should not have been subjected and also for taxpayers with county attorney employees’ time spent on denying the release of information that a hearing was going to undoubtedly require.

Looking at these cases both individually and collectively, it would seem many public offices in Bell County government could use someone accountable to taxpayers.

Lou Ann Anderson is an information activist and the editor of Watchdog Wire – Texas. As a Policy Analyst with Americans for Prosperity – Texas, she writes and speaks about a variety of public policy topics. Lou Ann is the Creator and Online Producer at Estate of Denial®, a website that addresses the growing issue of probate abuse in which wills, trusts, guardianships and powers of attorney are used to loot assets from intended beneficiaries or heirs.