L.J. Cotterill, one of six jurors from the U.S. Army Master Sgt. C.J. Grisham trial, spoke with Matthew Short of DontComply.com regarding his four-day Bell County courtroom experience which rendered a hung jury with a five to convict, one to acquit vote.
After qualifying that he was speaking only on his own behalf, Cotterill called the trial an “interesting event.”
Cotterill said that upon seeing the dashcam video, being a corrections officer caused him to look at the incident from both points of view and he saw many mistakes made by both parties. “This was a matter that got completely blown out of proportion,” he said. “You had two A-type personalities run into each other and they responded poorly to one another.”
He discussed how, as a reflexive response, people with weapons retention training will react differently when someone tries to disarm them. With Grisham’s military history, Cotterill observed “you’re going to have that.”
Once the encounter between Grisham and Temple Police Officer Steve Ermis started, “if either party had backed up just a little, it would have de-escalated quickly. They could have talked, they could have fixed this. It would never have become public attention. But what happened was rather than say ‘hey, hold on, what I’m going to do is clear this weapon and make sure I’m safe while speaking to you,’ the officer pulls his weapon and puts him (Grisham) on the hood.”
He expressed empathy for Ermis, the dangers of the job and noted not being there to specifically read that situation, but suggested, “I know my method of handling the situation would have been different.”
Cotterill says that Grisham did the things he was charged with, but there were circumstances behind the actions. “The problems were with two A-type personalities and neither was going to back down so it continued to escalate and they ended up on the hood.”
“If I had been allowed to factor in self-defense,” Cotterill said, “This would have probably been a two-minute deliberation and we all would have went ‘not guilty.’”
The problem is, he explained, all the jury was allowed to consider was criminal negligence using the definition that had been provided. The jury was not allowed to factor in circumstance or anything else – it was just did this thing happen? All evidence considered had to be from witness statements.
After 12 hours of arguing “not guilty,” Cotterill said he had to admit that Grisham did indeed commit the acts. The jury, he said, was not there to decide if there were mitigating circumstances.
“We had been given the order to determine whether or not he had committed these acts.”
“You can look at the video and you can see he (Grisham) committed these acts. Yes, he may have had his reasons, but it doesn’t change the fact that he committed these acts.” Cotterill explained. “We weren’t there to determine if he had the right to self defense, we weren’t there to determine if his actions were a defensive tactics. We weren’t there to determine whether the officer was wrong in his actions. We were just there to determine whether or not he had committed the acts that he was charged with.”
The jury was hung because “one individual did not feel Grisham’s acts were pronounced enough to constitute resisting, interfering, impeding or disrupting,” Cotterill said.
He went on to describe a “huge gray area” regarding the definitions given. “That gray area is the difference between the spirit and meaning of the law and the letter of the law,” he continued. “When we were arguing for ‘not guilty,’ we were going on what we felt the spirit and the meaning was, but that is a highly subjective thing and we ended up having to resort to what is the letter of the law.”
Of the one acquittal holdout, Cotterill said he didn’t know if the person “couldn’t divorce their feelings from the matter or if they were stubborn.”
Of his own vote change from not guilty to guilty, Cotterill said he told other jurors that he was wrong initially, but “for all the right reasons.” The charge by itself, he said, is garbage because while Grisham may have committed the charge, it was for a good reason and while he may have committed the acts, it was justifiable in Cotterill’s opinion.
Only information presented from the witness stand was allowed during deliberations. No “outside information” was made available. A jury request for a dictionary in order to clarify the definition of “criminal negligence” was denied.
When asked if jurors were presented an option of jury nullification, Cotterill said no. He said the jury instructions stated if Grisham committed any one – not all – of the acts for which he was charged, a guilty verdict should be returned. Only if the jury found Grisham committed none of the acts could not guilty be found.
Cotterill said he originally argued that circumstances of the incident mitigated Grisham’s actions and the charges, but because of the “criminal negligence” definition provided, he says that hours of deliberation altered his position to a view that “circumstances were not what was in question – it was a question of whether or not the action had been committed.”
The jury composition included corrections officer Cotterill, a law enforcement officer and a Marine. He said all but one – the individual who voted “not guilty” – were pro-gun.
The interview concluded with Cotterill noting both Grisham and Ermis are “heroes” with regard to their respective public service. He said Ermis made mistakes, but “was not on trial.” Grisham was on trial and his actions were those upon which judgment was required.
Regardless “whatever the politics were,” Cotterill said he agrees with the message of Open Carry Texas and believes in the Second Amendment and in all our Constitutional rights. Whether the Grisham case could be precedent setting, he said the jury had to set aside personal feelings and judge the case based on the information provided at trial and on the jury instructions.
That’s why, he said, they “had a hard time coming to a decision” and had Bell County’s longest deliberation of any Class B misdemeanor.
Per Cotterill, “we all agreed that the charge itself and the case itself was garbage. This entire matter should have been resolved by two grown men acting like grown men apologizing for their part in a bad situation and buying each other a beer and then going to a range together.”
The term right fighting – fighting to be right, not necessarily to make the right decision; having to have the last word in an argument; to not back down, to prevail regardless the cost or carnage - applies to the prosecution of this case. Right fighting usually occurs in dysfunctional personal relationships, but we see here that it can also find its way to public venues at taxpayer expense.
As Grisham’s case remains pending with the office of Bell County Attorney Jim Nichols, area residents can look to the new trial scheduled Nov. 18 as the next date in which taxpayer-funded right fighting dysfunction returns to court.