BELTON — The case of a Fort Hood non-commissioned officer whose March arrest in Temple sparked a nationwide outcry from gun-rights advocates was the subject of a pre-trial hearing Wednesday afternoon.
Judge Neal Richardson, a retired Harris County judge called in to hear the county attorney’s case against Master Sgt. Christopher Grisham, ruled on motions requested by defense attorney Kurt Glass and by the county’s attorney, Mark Danford, at the Bell County Justice Center Complex.
Grisham was arrested March 16 when he and his son, Chris, were reportedly on a 10-mile Boy Scout hike to satisfy a requirement for an Eagle badge. The elder Grisham was carrying his AR-15 on a sling in front of his body when he was stopped by Temple Police Officer Steve Ermis, who was responding to a citizen call.
Richardson did not rule on a defense motion to suppress the arrest. Instead, he will wait until defense co-counsel Paul Harrell submits a brief next week disputing several case laws Danford submitted in argument against the suppression. Then, Richardson will make his ruling known as to whether the case against Grisham will go to trial.
“We pretty much have what we wanted,” Glass said after the almost three-hour hearing.
Glass filed a motion for discovery of any exculpatory evidence not already provided to the defense. He said the defense had new information that the non-emergency line caller who reported seeing someone with a gun walking west on Airport Road had written a statement for the Temple Police Department that wasn’t given to them. He also filed a motion to obtain a list of any witnesses the prosecution would be calling if the case went to trial.
Although Danford proposed turning over a statement to Glass and his team later, Richardson ruled the evidence must be turned over now. The prosecution agreed to turn over a list of any known witnesses, but stipulated they could not list any rebuttal witnesses. Glass agreed to the change in the motion, and the judge ordered the list be turned over to the defense.
Officer said he felt threatened
The recording of the non-emergency call and the police dash cam video were both played for Richardson and Ermis.
The caller said she’d seen a couple walking west on Airport Road and one was carrying some kind of gun, which she termed “odd.” She thought they were white and that one was a woman. She said the man was carrying the weapon, not waving it around.
Ermis later said he didn’t know until later that the call didn’t come from a 911 dispatcher.
Danford pointed out that the area on Airport Road included a couple of schools, part of an airfield and a fire station, and Ermis termed the area not rural, but “rural-type.” Harrell countered later that it was a Saturday and there was no school in session, and that Grisham was stopped on another road in a rural setting, not Airport Road.
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.
Danford noted that Grisham could have been arrested on a Class C traffic offense for walking on the wrong side of the road. He was first arrested for resisting arrest, but the county attorney’s office later changed the charge to interfering with the duties of a peace officer.
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.
Several people demonstrated outside the Bell County Justice Center to protest Grisham’s arrest. Many of them carried firearms and said they were exercising their legal right to open carry. Sheriff Eddy Lange arranged for an area at the intersection of Loop 121 and the Justice Center Complex so the protestors had plenty of visibility, as well as shade, chairs and water.
“I hope everything goes as planned,” Lange said before the hearing. “In light of the recent courthouse shootings and because this is a high-profile case, we took extra precautions and had deputies patrolling the outside of the complex.” Afterward, Lange said everyone had fully complied with the stipulations placed on the demonstration.
Deputies were placed at the entrance to the Justice Center, and Sirena Diaz, Glass’ paralegal, said deputies were also stopping drivers at the entrance of the complex to ask why they were there.