Tuesday, November 5, 2013

AG opens crack in stone wall around Grisham arrest

Belton – Assistant County Attorney Darrell Guess was livid, visibly angered as he handed over an open records letter ruling from the Attorney General's office.

According to that letter, dated October 29, citizens are one step closer to knowing the truth about an arrest of man who was walking down a public road with a loaded rifle, an act allowed by both the U.S. and Texas Constitution.

In order to continue stonewalling the public about the conduct of Temple Police Officer Steve Ermis when he arrested M/Sgt. C.J. Grisham on May 16 by refusing to release a dashcam video recording, prosecutors will be obliged to file suit by Monday in Travis County, if they wish to comply with a 10-day deadline and receive the full protection of the subsection of the Texas Open Records Act that governs matters of this type.

An Assistant Attorney General, Megan Holloway, cited a failure on the part of prosecutors to comply with procedural deadlines.

As a result, Ms. Holloway added, both the Attorney General's office and requestors previously denied access to the information, which is normally considered public, and routinely released upon written request by law enforcement agencies statewide, will have the opportunity to sue Bell County for the release of the information if they so choose.

She said that a “failure to comply results in the legal presumption the requested information is public and must be released unless a compelling reason exists to withhold the information from disclosure.”

Though Mr. Guess has said he is in possession of a court order from retired visiting Harris County Court at Law Judge Neel D. Richardson sealing the material, he has yet to produce that order.

Spectators in open court have been prevented from seeing the video, which, according to those who have witnessed it, depicts the veteran officer jamming the muzzle of a semiautomatic pistol into the back of the Sergeant's neck, bending him over the hood of a patrol car, then jabbing him in the ribs under his left armpit with the gun as he takes his AR-15 assault rifle away from him.

Sgt. Grisham is charged with interfering with the appointed duties of a public official. His trial for the Class B Misdemeanor offense resulted in a mistrial when jurors were unable to reach unanimous agreement based in part on the dashcam video and other evidence presented in a week-long trial in October. An active duty Army enlisted man with many overseas deployments in his previous career, he is assigned to a military intelligence unit stationed at Ft. Hood.

Assistant Attorney General Megan Holloway answered a challenge to the previous ruling handed down by the AG's office by acknowledging that it is legal to withhold the material because “We have no indication there has been any change in the law, facts, or circumstances on which the previous ruling was based. Accordingly, we conclude the County Attorney's office may rely on (the previous ruling)...and withhold the submitted dash camera video...”

However, as of the date of this letter, you have not submitted to this office a copy of the written request for information...” It is that failure that triggers “certain deadlines” that will land Bell County in court defending its actions, even though certain “discretionary exceptions” existed in the first place.

Thus we have no choice but to order the remaining submitted information released...”

Reached for comment, one requestor, investigative journalist R.S. Gates, said “It's always a good day when you prevail.” A former police officer who recently lost his reserve officer status due to controversial investigations he has carried out on behalf of taxpayers and gun rights enthusiasts, he added, “I tell you, when the AG says you screwed up, it's nothing more than dogged determination. Their arrogance trips them up every time.”

He said he is unsure at this time if he will join a suit or file a petition on his own behalf.


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