Missing in action or missing the point? Questions surround the location of weapons confiscated by Temple police during the March arrest of U.S. Army Master Sgt. C.J. Grisham. The Bell County Attorney office’s aggressive prosecution of Grisham for a Class B misdemeanor charge has smacked of being a taxpayer-funded grudge match. Is this latest development more right fighting or a sign of incompetence? And isn’t this local government entity known for its gamesmanship proclivities only feeding a bigger, questionable point regarding its own image, professionalism and credibility?
An individual desiring to know the location and status of their property, property that was neither illicitly obtained nor illegally possessed yet confiscated by police doesn’t seem unreasonable – neither does wanting that property returned. That authorities can’t (or won’t) simply and promptly answer an uncomplicated inquiry, however, presents an unflattering view of which fiscally responsible, accountability oriented taxpayers should note.
After unfruitful attempts with both the police and the county attorney’s office, Grisham filed a document demanding “the immediate return of my lawfully carried firearms and other accessories that were confiscated from my person on March 16, 2013″ with Bell County Clerk Shelley Coston.
Nichols said Thursday afternoon he did not know where the weapons are being stored, but noted the court reporter takes the evidence and stores it until the case is final.
“I’ll have to check but I think they’re transferred to a secure location at the sheriff’s department,” Nichols said.
Lt. Donnie Adams, Bell County Sheriff’s Department spokesman, said they don’t have Grisham’s weapons.
Adams checked Thursday with the property clerk, who said the sheriff’s department didn’t have the weapons.
“We have not received any weapons from the county attorney’s office,” Adams said. “If we did have the weapons, we would not release them until we had a court order from the judge for the release, especially if a ruling might be appealed. We would hold all evidence until the case was concluded.”
Cpl. Christopher Wilcox, Temple Police spokesman, said, “To my knowledge, the guns haven’t been placed back in our gun vault.”
After the reporter was transferred to multiple people in the county clerk’s office, Bell County District Clerk Shelia Norman said her office only keeps the felony exhibits.
Shelly Coston, Bell County clerk, said her office doesn’t keep firearms, drugs or other contraband from misdemeanor cases because it isn’t set up to securely store that kind of evidence. She referred back to the county attorney’s office, even after being told that office denied having the guns or knowing where they are.
Coston also didn’t know where a chain of custody log for that kind of evidence would be located, only saying it wasn’t in her office.
On Friday, however, Nichols updated his position. Also covering the looming question over the Grisham weapons locale, KTBC MyFox Austin reported:
We called county attorney Jim Nichols for comment. Nichols told us in a statement.
“During the course of the trial, several photos, diagrams, recordings and weapons were entered into evidence. As in all cases, physical evidence is marked and preserved by the court reporter in the case. All evidence is stored pending a final disposition of the case,” Nichols said.
“Well then why is the court reporter telling us that they don’t have it? I mean, it seems like everybody that we speak to from Temple P.D. to the Sheriff’s department to the court, the county clerk…nobody seems to have these guns,” Grisham said.
Grisham says his attorneys are appealing the verdict — but they haven’t filed yet. He says even so, it shouldn’t matter.
“It doesn’t matter. Because the appeals court isn’t gonna hear evidence. In an appeal, he’s not gonna be taken in there showing guns off to the appellate judge because we’re arguing matters of law not matters of evidence,” Grisham said.
Grisham says his AR-15 and pistol are worth $1200 and $900 respectively.
“In all, they’ve got over $2000 worth of my property so maybe I should just not pay the fine and consider the debt even,” Grisham joked.
Nichols’ statement further noted:
The county attorney’s office has not filed for forfeiture, nor does it intend to seek forfeiture of any of the items entered into evidence in this case. However, since thirty days have not elapsed since the jury rendered its verdict and sentence, the judgment is not yet final. Until the judgment becomes final, either by operation of law or through the appellate process, the items in question remain in evidence.
The Telegram heard from Nichols on Friday with the same message that “they (the guns) reportedly are in the possession of court stenographer Betsy Mock Clifton, in a secure storage area in the courthouse” although as of that afternoon, the information was yet to be confirmed by Clifton.
The paper also described Assistant County Attorney John Gauntt Jr.’s response to Grisham’s demand letter:
Gauntt said that Grisham’s citing of Article 18.19(d) of Texas Code of Criminal Procedure was inapplicable since he “was not convicted under Chapter 46 of the Texas Penal Code. Additionally, this subsection is inapplicable given the current status of the case.”
Chapter 46 addresses weapons offenses against public health, safety and morals. And Section 18.19 outlines certain conditions under which an individual can retrieve weapons seized by law enforcement agencies.
The response said the state doesn’t intend to seek forfeiture of the weapons. The reason they are not being released is because the judgment and sentence are not yet final, Gauntt’s written response said.
Grisham’s attorney, Blue Rannefeld, said he hadn’t yet received that response Friday afternoon. He said he was told immediately after the second trial that the weapons wouldn’t be returned because the ruling was being appealed and the guns are considered evidence.
After a mid-October four-day trial ended as a mistrial due to a hung jury, Grisham was then convicted Nov. 19 as a narrowly-crafted jury charge left a second jury with little choice but to convict.
His initial resisting arrest charge was downgraded twice before Nichols’ office 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.
Upon his arrest, Grisham was carrying two weapons: a pistol for which he had a Texas Concealed Handgun License and a rifle. Texas has no state law against carrying a long gun in public.
The prosecution centered on the 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. Ermis was 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.
Grisham, a well-known military blogger, captured a large portion of the exchange on cellphone video which quickly went viral.
The public, however, was not allowed to see the initial altercation moments when Ermis drew his gun on Grisham until after the trials as prosecutors fought public release of the police dashcam video.
Sleazy or sloppy? Were the guns’ location ever truly in question? If not, might “sleazy” be the answer? Might this have been nothing more than legal gamesmanship – stonewalling – in a matter that already exudes a grudge match tone? And if actually unaccounted for, is “sloppy” then the fair assessment? Are no protocols, procedures or policies strictly followed to ensure integrity of Bell County’s legal process?
Taxpayers have reason to wonder.