C.J. Grisham, the U.S. Army Master Sergeant arrested in March 2013 by Temple Police Department officers and ultimately convicted in a Bell County court for interfering with a peace officer while performing a duty, has released new dashcam video that gives an interesting view of Sgt. Thomas Menix driving Grisham’s then-15-year-old son Chris home from the arrest incident and the officer’s verbal exchange with Grisham’s wife, Emily.
Grisham, a well-known military blogger, captured a large portion of his arrest on cellphone video which was released shortly after the incident. It quickly went viral and has prompted much interest on the fronts of gun rights, police use of authority and government transparency/accountability issues.
Grisham describes the new video as follows:
I was finally able to get a copy of the complete dashcam footage that included the entire footage of my son’s ride home in a squad car. The important aspect of this video is the utter lack of respect and contempt that Temple Police Department officers have for members of the public that dare to stand up to their abuse of authority under color of law.
As you will hear in this video, I gave explicit instructions to my son that he need not answer any questions. At the time of this video he had just turned 15 almost two weeks prior. He didn’t fully understand his rights to remain silent as a minor. Texas law does not explicitly require or prevent officers from questioning minors in the presence of parents, but in a situation in which the minor is NOT accused of a crime, common sense and decency dictate that a parent be involved in any questioning!
Temple Police Department Sergeant Tom Menix wasted no time violating my instructions to my son by immediately trying to win his trust with menial conversation. Barely a minute passes from the time my patrol takes off and Menix begins questioning my son. I’m not talking about asking where he lives or even his first name – I understand that. However, any further conversation is extraneous and completely out of line.
One would think that the mere fact my instructions were ignored by the senior officer on the scene was bad enough. But as you watch the video, the officer then asks my son various questions WHILE MY WIFE IS LESS THAN 20 FEET AWAY. She could have easily answered those questions instead of scaring the shit out of a young, teenage boy and holding him hostage in the back of a patrol unit.
We have filed a formal complaint about this incident and will also be filing suit against the Sergeant and the department.
Grisham does plainly tells his son, a minor, that he doesn’t have to answer any questions. Menix, still asks questions of the younger Grisham – even upon arriving at the boy’s residence with his mother in close proximity and clearly available.
Menix’s description of the arrest and circumstances leading up to it were “creative.”
“A lot of people” was one. “Resisting search” is untrue. Grisham was totally forthcoming as to items including weapons he had on his person. Menix’s characterization of Grisham as “highly upset as he was as soon as the officer started messing with him” is based upon the account he received from Temple Police Officer Steve Ermis, the arresting officer.
The video additionally features an account of the incident and his father’s arrest prepared by Chris Grisham immediately upon returning home.
Ermis – in the early moments of the incident – pulled his gun and pointed it at the elder Grisham’s head. This appears to be the single act which prompted reactions that escalated the situation.
Grisham’s initial resisting arrest charge was downgraded twice before the office of Bell County Attorney Jim Nichols settled on an interfering with a peace officer while performing a duty charge, a Class B misdemeanor punishable by a fine not to exceed $2,000, confinement in jail for a term not to exceed 180 days or both fine and confinement.
After a first mid-October trial ended with a hung jury, Nichols’ office scheduled a retrial just weeks later and, with a narrowly-crafted jury charge, secured a conviction.
Ermis was a key witness in both trials. During the second trial he revealed a perspective of what can aptly be called the Ermis Doctrine, an interesting view of resisting arrest and use of force concepts. Ermis 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.”
Right fighting is a term used to describe those who fight to be right, not necessarily to make the right decision. It’s having to have the last word in an argument, to not back down, to prevail regardless the cost or carnage. It’s dysfunctional behavior in personal relationships, it’s a betrayal of public trust when engaged in by taxpayer-funded entities. It’s applicable to Bell County officials’ prosecution of Grisham.
The dashcam video was played in open court both during a late July pre-trial hearing and during the October and November trials. During courtroom exhibitions of the video, county prosecutors were diligent in efforts to restrict court spectators’ (i.e., the public’s) view of the video instead working to ensure visibility as needed only to designated court personnel, witnesses and/or the jury.
The county’s post-conviction video release offered the public its first opportunity to fully see the incident. Though Grisham’s widely-viewed cellphone video documented much of the encounter, opening seconds of the Temple police dashcam video establish the initial demeanor and actions of both Ermis and Grisham while also providing context for what’s seen in the Grisham video.
For months as the case garnered national attention, the police dashcam video – generally considered public information and routinely released in high-profile, ongoing cases – was requested from the city of Temple and Bell County by numerous media concerns and interested parties. Officials sought attorney general’s office rulings to withhold the video.
Demonstrating its resistance to citizen and other online journalists’ information requests, City of Temple Deputy City Attorney Nan Rodriguez told one blogger it is “the public which is precisely who is not to have access to that information – precisely.” In further emphasizing the point, she said, “you are the reason that the thing is not public – you are the reason – you and every one of your ilk.”
After the county’s release of the dashcam video, Grisham released a video which time-sequences the three different recordings of the incident: the dashcam footage from Ermis’ car, Grisham’s cellphone video and the dashcam footage of Menix, Ermis’ supervisor who arrived on the scene as back-up.
Last week, Grisham’s defense team filed a notice of appeal to the Third Court of Appeals in Austin from the “judgments rendered against him.”
“The judge made no ruling on my Dec. 18, 2013, motion for a new trial, so I had 90 days to file an appeal,” Grisham attorney Blue Rannefeld told the Temple Daily Telegram. “I’ve put Bell County and Judge Neel Richardson on notice.”
“I gave Richardson time to admit his errors, but he never ruled on my motion,” Rannefeld further stated.
City of Temple taxpayers also face financial liability for civil lawsuits likely to come out of this case and at least one other alleged excessive abuse case involving Temple police officers.