|I've never seen a man walking down the road with a gun - Steve Ermis, Temple PD|
Belton – Jurors found it difficult to maintain their composure as they watched a video of a veteran Temple police officer suddenly brandishing a semi-auto pistol and jamming it into the side of an Army Master Sergeant as he manhandled him while attempting to put him in handcuffs.
They sat in stoic, implacable silence, staring at a large screen monitor as the drama played out in the video.
When C.J. Grisham and his son set out to take a walk past farms operated and owned by members of their extended family near the Temple airport last March 16, according to close friends, he was responding to the menace of intruders who had allegedly tampered with anhydrous ammonia fertilizer tanks. The poisonous gas is a key component of illicitly manufactured methamphetamine. Grisham carried a loaded AR-15 assault rifle on a sling across his chest, its barrel pointed at the ground, a Kimber .45 auto pistol in a concealment holster under his shirt.
An earlier presentation to the Temple City Council fell on deaf ears when he asked that they enact an ordinance to allow people to carry weapons on the streets of their city unmolested by police, and to enact no further restrictions on gun ownership, which is guaranteed without infringement by both the Texas and U.S. Constitutions.
According to the testimony of a complaining witness named Lisa Wilkerson, program director of the Children's Advocacy Center, when she saw Grisham walking with the rifle, headed west on State Highway 36, she said, “I was alarmed seeing an individual with a large gun walking on the highway.”
She called police on an administrative line to report him. “I don't think I've ever called 911 in my life,” she told defense attorney Blue Rammefeld on cross examination. The attorney had asked why she did not call the emergency number if she felt alarmed. He also asked her why she changed her description of her feelings to that of alarm instead of "odd," as stated in her original complaint.
When Ms. Wilkerson called, dispatchers sent Officer Steve Ermis, a 27-year veteran of the Temple force. The video shows he pulled up behind the father and son and stepped out of his patrol car; he may be heard asking Grisham, “Why are you carrying this?”
Grisham answered, "Because I can." Soon after, Ermis sent him sprawling across the hood of his patrol car, his pistol pressed into his flesh as he disarmed him of his two firearms and struggled to handcuff him.
The officer later testified that in 27 years on the Temple police force, he had never before seen anyone walking down the highway with a rifle.
“You're going to see who is acting and who is overreacting,” said his lawyer, Bannefeld, in opening remarks.
Only a handful of people other than jurors and court officials could see the video because prosecutors turned the screen of the monitor away from the gallery at a radical angle.
As it played, Ermis sat in the witness stand in stone-faced silence, his face beet red as he listened to himself and Grisham trade barbed insults and threats in shrill tones.
Prosecutors changed an original charge of resisting arrest alleged by police to that of the Class B misdemeanor of disorderly conduct in carrying a firearm in a manner “calculated to alarm.” They will seek to prove that intent to members of the four-man, 2-woman jury.
The day's testimony ended the way the proceeding began, with defense and prosecuting attorneys arguing to keep the facts of the case as outlined in their pleadings private from spectators, who were also not allowed to hear voir dire questioning of prospective jurors due to overcrowding of the courtroom.
Judge Richardson halted testimony for the day as attorneys for the prosecution and the defense battled over the details of the affidavit of probable cause and the investigation and arrest report. The document, prosecutors argued, had not yet been admitted as evidence, while the defense attorney said he quizzed the officer about his written reports for “demonstration purposes” in an effort at impeachment of his testimony.
"The jurors and I keep a normal business day," visiting Judge Neel Richardson of Harris County said, provoking laughter as he eyed the clock, which stood at 5 p.m.
Bannefeld had earlier ended his opening statement with a recollection that his grandfather, a veteran police officer, gave his blessing to his youthful intentions to become an attorney as they dug a new pit for a septic tank one day. The lawyer told jurors his grandfather agreed with him, saying that he knew that “cops lie and plant evidence – whatever it takes to make their cases.”
The Grisham case has become something of a cause celebre in Texas, among constitutionalists and Tea Party advocates, and with open carry advocates, who are staging armed marches throughout the Lone Star State and in retail locations, coffee cops, and restaurants, sometimes to the dismay of the proprietors and their patrons.
An armed fiesta at San Antonio's Alamo Square called “Line in the Sand” is scheduled for Saturday, October 19 at 10 a.m. Police agencies have followed the San Antonio department by promulgating training policies to deal with the appearance of open carry advocates statewide as they practice their belief in going armed with a loaded long gun in public.
The act of carrying a long gun, loaded or unloaded, is not illegal, according to state firearms laws, unless done in a manner calculated to alarm people, of if carried by a convicted felon, a person who is mentally ill, or one who has been convicted for domestic violence.
Officer Ermis may be heard on the dashcam video telling Sgt. Grisham that had he voluntarily laid down his weapons and allowed himself to be arrested, he would have probably returned his weapons after a conversation about gun safety. His aim was to determine if the veteran of multiple overseas deployments is legally authorized to carry a weapon.
Presentation of evidence and testimony will resume in the case when Officer Ermis retakes the witness stand at 9:30 a.m. on Wednesday, October 16, in Courtroom 1 at the Bell County Justice Center.