‘Guilty’ was the unanimous verdict delivered Tuesday afternoon by a Bell County jury in the Class B misdemeanor retrial of C.J. Grisham, the U.S. Army Master Sergeant charged with interfering with a peace officer while performing a duty. The retrial centered on a March 16 encounter during which Grisham reacted to Temple Police Officer Steve Ermis drawing his gun and holding it to the former combat veteran’s head while responding to a non-emergency call of a couple walking west on Airport Road, one specifically exhibiting non-aggressive behavior though reportedly carrying a gun.
The proceeding Tuesday, the trial’s second day, moved at an accelerated clip as the prosecution wrapped the testimony of Ermis and then rested. The defense then called one witness – Grisham’s son Chris – before also resting.
The interaction between Ermis and Grisham was key throughout the retrial. Ermis’ testimony depicted a scene in which he was establishing, as trained, a “command presence” in his encounter with Grisham. He said Grisham didn’t appear agitated over the situation until Ermis attempted to take his weapon – a disarmament effort of which Ermis first claimed he asked to do although the police dashcam video and other evidence subsequently showed the officer’s action came with no warning.
Ermis admitted inconsistencies between his initial arrest report and later filings. He acknowledged telling Sgt. Thomas Menix that if Grisham had complied with the order to disarm, Ermis would have let him go. The officer, however, never gave Grisham a disarmament order. Instead, he unexpectedly reached for the gun, Grisham had an initial recoil reaction to which Ermis drew his gun holding it at Grisham’s head and the situation escalated from there.
Ermis testified the pair’s manner of walking on the road was a traffic offense that gave him the right to stop and question their presence. He said that Grisham committed no other crimes except for “walking illegally down the road and resisting arrest.” When asked if he had used the threat of deadly force for other traffic violations, Ermis replied no.
Ermis’ testimony also included a series of questions on the concepts of resisting arrest and use of force. He testified that a suspect never has the opportunity to resist arrest, that it’s appropriate to use the force necessary to affect an arrest. When asked if a defendant has the right to resist the use of unreasonable force, Ermis replied no, that the court system is “where things are to be hashed out.”
The prosecution’s closing arguments included the following points:
- Don’t let bias and prejudice enter into your deliberation. We are not trying a uniform.
- Authority is a part of our society. We always have someone telling us what to do, how to behave.
- As police officers have been given a job to protect and serve our communities, laws must protect police and tell citizens you are not to fight back if an arrest is being made. An officer has a right to disarm a citizen before interviewing them.
- An officer on a stop doesn’t know if a weapon is loaded or not, otherwise “we wouldn’t be sitting here talking about a misdemeanor, we’d be talking about a dead cop.”
- Why should an officer have to had struggled to handcuff someone?
- As big believers in accountability, asking the jury to help protect officers in the community who uphold the laws.
- Chris Grisham testified his father’s compliance was conditional upon the video camera being passed from father to son, is that really what we want?
- The stop was prompted by not only suspicious persons, but because there had been burglaries in the area.
- “Whole thing is a set up Ermis had the bad fortune to walk in on. When Sgt. Thomas Menix arrives, Grisham smiled.”
- The jury should come down on the side of officer safety.
The defense’s closing arguments included these points:
- Citizens also have the right to accountability.
- Not seeing much in terms of holding officers accountable.
- When calling the police, do we expect them to come in and escalate the situation? Who was the initial escalator?
- By the prosecutor’s logic, an officer can do anything he wants to. But citizens have rights, too.
- Must be a reasonable way to have disarmed Grisham. Seems Ermis felt the same way because he kept saying he asked for the weapon. He told Sgt. Menix that twice he asked for the weapon. Grisham replied “I’m not going to stand here and let you lie.” Ermis completed paperwork saying he asked for the weapon. Subsequent paperwork then skips the issue. Complaint says Grisham was asked, but he never was.
- This case is about an ordinary citizen being arrested after multiple misrepresentations by an officer and then charged with a crime based on those misrepresentations.
- In his testimony Chris Grisham was told the police did him a favor taking him home after his father’s arrest rather than having his mother come pick him up or leaving him by the side of the road. Police did Chris a favor by putting a gun to his father’s head? By watching cops throw his father on the hood of a car? Police did a favor because his father was desperate to show unreasonable, excessive force by filming the incident?
- Must show the defendant interrupted, disrupted, impeded or otherwise interfered with gross negligence and caused a substantial, unjustifiable risk.
- Just like you can’t judge or give too much weight to Grisham’s (military) uniform, can’t give weight to Ermis’ uniform. An officer is less credible when he wears the uniform, but didn’t ask Grisham for the weapon, said he did, but didn’t and never really corrected the record.
- When an officer says he did something and then obviously didn’t, it makes him less credible.
- Grisham’s actions were reasonable because they were a reaction. The “devil is in the detail” in this case.
- Need to hold the police accountable for their actions. If you find them unreasonable, find Grisham not guilty.
After two hours of deliberation, the jury found Grisham guilty. Class B misdemeanor punishment is a fine not to exceed $2,000, confinement in jail for a term not to exceed 180 days or both fine and confinement.
The punishment phase of Grisham’s retrial will reconvene 9 a.m. Wednesday.