Tax bills due, new questions emerge on Bell County’s brand of justice, taxpayer-funded ‘right fighting’ (TX)

The aftermath of U.S. Army Master Sgt. C.J. Grisham’s Bell County trial continues generating more questions than answers with regard to the central Texas county’s “right fighting” prosecution of an interfering with the duties of a peace officer Class B misdemeanor charge.

Grisham’s March 16 arrest spawned a viral video based on an encounter initiated as Temple Police Officer Steve Ermis responded to a non-emergency report of a couple – one purported to have a gun – walking in an area on the outskirts of Temple. The 27-year police department veteran interrupted a 10-mile hike Grisham and his 15-year-old son were on as part of a Boy Scout badge project. Ermis approached the pair and began questioning Grisham about the clearly visible AR-15 gun hanging from a strap around his neck.

While efforts to obscure the police dashcam from general public viewing continue, a consistent depiction of the events captured suggests Ermis unexpectedly reaching to disarm Grisham thereby prompting a reflexive action by the combat veteran to which Ermis then responded by drawing his gun keeping its barrel pointed at the soldier’s head until then forcing him onto the hood of a car.

An interesting attitude and manner in which the mid-October trial was conducted quickly became visible to participants, spectators and the media. All but 10 audience members (which had to include Grisham’s family) were denied access to jury selection.

Those inside the courtroom for jury selection were also surprised when visiting Harris County Judge Neel Richardson read aloud the names, addresses and phone numbers of the six jurors. That three were noted to allegedly not have addresses listed on their jury cards was another immediate point of interest.

The Legendary Jim Parks wrote of other questionable occurrences:

Judge Richardson introduced a high degree of suspense by excluding spectators and press from the return of the jury’s verdict after two days of deliberations in which they sought legal instruction seven times, most of it regarding the legal definition of criminal negligence as it applied to the facts of the case of Grisham. He was accused of interfering with the performance of Officer Steve Ermis as Ermis sought to disarm and place Grisham under arrest because of his carrying his loaded assault weapon, an act that is legal is this state.

Questions over the jury pool’s composition are now surfacing as Grisham attorney Blue Rannefeld claims “the jury pool was packed with city or county employees, police officers and jailers.” Rannefeld told the Temple Daily Telegram “about half of the potential jury pool contained individuals in those professions.”

Such questioning is not new. In an interview with DontComply.com, juror L.J. Cotterill noted the jury comprised of himself – a corrections officer – a law enforcement officer and a Marine.

He continued that theme in an interview with the Temple Daily Telegram:

“I was shocked I was picked for the jury since I’m a corrections officer. Why did they put me in that position?” Coterrill said during a phone interview on Thursday. “In fact, that was the question we all asked after they closed the door on us for deliberations, considering the other jurors were a retired Marine, a police officer, a retired city of Temple employee and two teachers.”

In his DontComply.com interview, Cotterill said, “We all agreed that the charge itself and the case itself was garbage. This entire matter should have been resolved by two grown men acting like grown men apologizing for their part in a bad situation and buying each other a beer and then going to a range together.”

He described his views of the charge and the deliberations:

Cotterill says that Grisham did the things he was charged with, but there were circumstances behind the actions. “The problems were with two A-type personalities and neither was going to back down so it continued to escalate and they ended up on the hood.”

“If I had been allowed to factor in self-defense,” Cotterill said, “This would have probably been a two-minute deliberation and we all would have went ‘not guilty.’”

The problem is, he explained, all the jury was allowed to consider was criminal negligence using the definition that had been provided. The jury was not allowed to factor in circumstance or anything else – it was just did this thing happen? All evidence considered had to be from witness statements.

After 12 hours of arguing “not guilty,” Cotterill said he had to admit that Grisham did indeed commit the acts.

The jury, he said, was not there to decide if there were mitigating circumstances.

“We had been given the order to determine whether or not he had committed these acts.”

“You can look at the video and you can see he (Grisham) committed these acts. Yes, he may have had his reasons, but it doesn’t change the fact that he committed these acts.” Cotterill explained. “We weren’t there to determine if he had the right to self defense, we weren’t there to determine if his actions were a defensive tactics. We weren’t there to determine whether the officer was wrong in his actions. We were just there to determine whether or not he had committed the acts that he was charged with.”

This case has implications not only about the quality of justice dispensed in Bell County, but also as discussed in Because they can, Grisham case is Bell County ‘right fighting’ at Texas taxpayers’ expense, the way in which taxpayer dollars are spent.

The city of Temple and Bell County have spent significant time and tax dollars in pursuit of this misdemeanor case, a case which appears more a clash of two tempers than any commission of a substantive crime.

Cotterill astutely pointed out that upon seeing the dashcam video, being a corrections officer caused him to look at the incident from both points of view and he saw many mistakes made by both parties. “This was a matter that got completely blown out of proportion,” he said. “You had two A-type personalities run into each other and they responded poorly to one another.”

He discussed how, as a reflexive response, people with weapons retention training will react differently when someone tries to disarm them. With Grisham’s military history, Cotterill observed “you’re going to have that.”

Once the encounter between Grisham and Ermis started, “if either party had backed up just a little, it would have de-escalated quickly. They could have talked, they could have fixed this. It would never have become public attention. But what happened was rather than say ‘hey, hold on, what I’m going to do is clear this weapon and make sure I’m safe while speaking to you,’ the officer pulls his weapon and puts him (Grisham) on the hood.”

The office of Bell County Attorney Jim Nichols appears unwilling to accept a reasoned stance supported by evidence that mistakes were made on both sides. The office’s only “compromise” has been two plea bargain offers rejected by Grisham.

Right fighting entails fighting to be right, not necessarily to make the right decision; having to have the last word in an argument; to not back down, to prevail regardless the cost or carnage. This case has consumed labors hours that have undoubtedly diverted resources from more productive tasks that should have better served taxpayer interests. Questionable actions on the part of government officials create serious credibility issues. The potential of civil litigation exposing taxpayers to additional financial risk remains unanswered.

The Grisham case is troubling, but as that jury was out deliberating, news came regarding another disturbing Temple Police Department incident that involved officers and a 15-year-old boy. Police appear to have believed Lorenzo Martinez was involved with two other men arrested May 18 for shoplifting at a Temple Walmart.

Martinez was not arrested that night, merely detained. He has never been charged with any crime. His takeaway from the encounter with police was a broken collarbone. As the Grisham trial was underway a Bell County grand jury declined indicting the officers involved.

Per the Telgram:

Martinez’s attorney, Kurt Glass, said he is livid and ill at the same time. He noted that the wording of the decision indicated that the matter had been presented as a misdemeanor case.

Bell County District Attorney Henry Garza would not comment.

“I really can’t say enough bad things about our district attorney,” Glass additionally noted. “Henry Garza is up for re-election. Lorenzo can’t vote but Temple Police Department does.”

In the Grisham case if jurors believed the act happened – regardless any mitigating circumstances – guilt was to be ascribed. With the Martinez case, however, the presented evidence or even the potential charges are unknown. All that’s known is a Temple juvenile while in police custody appears to have suffered significant injury and as few seem interested in an open inquiry of case facts, the grand jury finding “concludes the matter.”

That said, taxpayers are still left with Officers Daniel Amaya and Jeremy Bales on paid administrative leave “while Temple Police Department completes its internal administrative investigation,” a growing administrative leave tab as through Aug. 26, the officers on leave had been paid $47,470 and serious potential for a civil lawsuit.

Nov. 18 is the next date for which Bell County is scheduled to bring its taxpayer-funded, right fighting prosecution of Grisham back to court. As tax bills were recently sent out and area residents prepare to remit significant hard-earned dollars to their local governments, a legitimate question exists with just what kind of activities and culture are our taxpayer funds supporting?

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.

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