‘It’s my pet rock…’

Sgt. CJ Grisham

Sgt. C.J. Grisham

Belton, Texas – The Bell County “Justice Center” is little more than a fancy, new, state-of-the-art jail complete with all the cybernetic doodads, constructed with revenue bonds, the kind County Commissioners just haul off and authorize while the public has no chance to vote the debt service up or down.

Paying the bill for building this gleaming concrete and tool-grade steel-reinforced hulk in Mussolini Modern into the side of a surgically precise, machine-made hillside on a by-pass loop with direct connections to two limited access highways – State 190 to Ft. Hood and I-35 to Dallas and Austin – was something like whipping out your Visa Gold and American Express cards and letting the tab run. All the fat cats and good old boys got a piece of the action, from the Temple Mayor with his materials transportation company, a composite and concrete mogul with shopping mall, highway, and industrial plant projects all over the town Santa Fe built, to the neocon in-crowd with their fingers in statehouse budgets and federal grant money pie charts.

The ensuing years of drought have not been kind to the buildings, as the black land prairie settled and shifted under the influence of record-setting and protracted dry conditions, cracking the foundations. All this allows water to leak into the underground cells during the first year of normal rainfall since it was all flung together in defiance of gravity only a few years in the past.

Those underground passages sometimes stand in water for days until repair crews can get them pumped out and dry enough conditions prevail to patch the broken concrete. People who have done time there for ace capers like driving while license suspended or failure to carry insurance, probation revocation, and other misdemeanor convictions, say it’s turned into something of a struggle as new seeps and springs find their way through the fill and compacted composite on a daily basis.

When the neocons and law and order types start bragging about its subterranean passages and total surveillance capability, it’s hard to keep from getting the aroma and taste of your own vomit in your mouth and nasal passages. This is the jail where they housed Maj. Abu Nidal Malik Hasan, the devoutly Islamic Palestinian-American Army psychiatrist who specialized in examining post traumatic stress disorder patients fresh from the fight in Iraq and Afghanistan, the doc who equipped his Fabrique Nacional Herstal semi auto 5.7 mm pistol with both red and green laser sights so he could fire only on soldiers wearing green camouflage combat fatigues, and then mowed down more than a dozen human beings including a pregnant soldier who screamed, repeatedly, “My baby; my baby,” at a pre-deployment medical examination clinic in November, 2009.

it’s that kind of place.

So when you hit the magnetometers and turned out your pockets, you already knew it was going to be a bummer covering the trial of Sgt. C.J. Grisham, a military intelligence specialist and seasoned interrogator with extensive experience in Iraq and Afghanistan, for the misdemeanor offense of carrying a loaded AR-15 on a public roadway.

When he got home from his last overseas deployment, he admitted having the symptoms of PTSD, and was going through processing for his retirement. He’s a native of this prairie community, a military and transportation hub with a lot of warehousing and manufacturing muscle, a place on the way to everywhere else in this part of the world.

Sgt. Grisham has kin who own farm property in a semi-rural area near the excellent airport and industrial park on the west side of town. The row crop land buffers the runways of the airport, and in early spring, dopers come out of the woodwork and raid the anhydrous ammonia tanks placed in the fields for tractor drivers to replenish the fertilizer rigs on their plows as they lay off the rows for the new crop season.

The noxious gas is a chief component of “Nazi speed,” as it’s cooked locally, sold at a big fine price to zombies who stumble around for a few miserable months before they die. Grisham and another soldier made a habit of chasing the freaks off after he got home, wielding AR-15’s and piloting cars at triple-digit speeds.

He paid a visit to the City Council and addressed the local government in person when he learned there is a city ordinance prohibiting the open carry of firearms, something no state or federal law prohibits.

The mayor basically told him to take a flying leap at a rolling doughnut and not to let the door hit him in the buttocks, so he began  calculating his next move – not much for a stepper who has been preparing political dossiers in combat zones for many years.

He came up with the idea of going armed for a 10-mile hike around the perimeters of his family’s far-flung crop lands and the industrial park, something to help his son earn a merit badge for his Boy Scout uniform. As he and his high-school-aged son walked along a public roadway near the airport, a case worker for Child Protective Services (CPS) saw the black rifle, the juvenile accompanying the armed man, became alarmed, and called 9-1-1.

What happened next has gone down in Texas history. There is rarely a weekend when Grisham and his cadre don’t stage a public rally complete with a parade past the local cop shop somewhere in a major Texas city after first agitating long and loud to get the local gendarmes’ attention and quelling their desire to jail the bearers and confiscate their weapons.

Grisham has been arrested for carrying a toy plastic revolver on the steps of the State Capitol at Austin, obtained the permission of the State Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson to stage a rally of armed open carry enthusiasts on the grounds of the Alamo, and led his followers to testify before legislative committees in support of open carry of handguns.

On the morning in question, there stood this career soldier dressed in the gaudy, band box getup of a Master Sergeant wearing dress blues,  his tunic loaded with medals and service ribbons, his pockets turned out, and heat waves radiating off the top of his head.

The female deputy reached into the basket provided to hold keys, billfold, cell phone, change and other pocket detritus, held up a sizable smooth river rock that completely filled her hand, and asked, “What is this?”

Grisham hesitated a beat, a beat-and-a-half, and another, then drawled. “It’s my pet rock.”

You could have heard a pin drop in the glazed turret where all exits and entrances must originate in the massive public foyer. Though many eyes and ears were trained on the action, no one dared say a word; in fact, no one dared breathe too loudly.

“You will take it outside to the parking lot and put it in your vehicle,” the woman said, and Grisham’s face turned scarlet. Apparently, they had already gone round and round about his stress ball and his plastic figurine with the fright wig. But the pet rock was just way too much for her sensibilities.

He began the process of putting it all back in his pockets, she gave him his jacket, and he placed his visored cap on his head, about faced smoothly, and marched for the exit, his patent leather dress shoes striking the terrazzo at a steady tattoo.

A moment, to be sure, but oh, what a significant moment…and you were there.

To view a dashcam video of Grisham’s arrest in March of 2011, follow this link:


The first misdemeanor trial ended in a mistrial after jurors deadlocked 5 to 1. In the second, they returned a unanimous guilty verdict for interfering with an officer, as charged by the judge, because Grisham placed his hand on the weapon when the cop jerked it around by the one-point sling. He had drawn his pistol, preparing to jam the muzzle into the nape of Grisham’s neck and jab it into his armpit while he bent him over the hood of the patrol car.

Police still have Grisham’s custom-made AR-15 and Kimber concealed carry model .45-caliber 1911 style pistol in their custody while the case in under appeal.

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