ELLIS COUNTY – The Ellis County and District Attorney’s Office (ECDA) is investigating an alleged shooting of a church building by former Somervell County Sheriff’s Deputy William Cox.
At approximately 6:55 a.m. on Wednesday, July 13, Ovilla Police and Ellis County Sheriff’s deputies responded to the Shiloh Cumberland Presbyterian Church, located in 7810 Shiloh Road off of FM 664, after a call for “gun shots fired,” according to an Ellis County Sheriff’s Department arrest affidavit.
Cox was arrested on scene and booked into the Wayne McCollum Detention Center where he was charged with deadly conduct – discharge of a firearm, the affidavit states.
According to Sec. 22.05 of the Texas Penal Code, a person can be charged with a third degree felony if found to “knowingly discharge a firearm at or in the direction of (2) a habitation, building, or vehicle and is reckless as to whether the habitation, building or vehicle is occupied.” The penal code also states that the third-degree felony carries a confinement of up to 10 years, but no less than two years, in TDCJ and a fine not to exceed $10,000.
Ellis County Investigator Eric Thompson said Vernon Sansom, the church’s pastor, chose to drop all charges on July 14.
County and District Attorney Patrick Wilson said he was dismayed that Cox was released without posting bond and the charges were not forwarded to his office for further review.
“This incident troubles me greatly because it certainly looks like someone in the law enforcement community was afforded favoritism that others might not be afforded,” Wilson said. “Well you have a law enforcement officer is alleged to have committed a violent crime who is arrested by law enforcement officers and investigated by law enforcement agency. And you have a person, the complaint in the matter, who is a law enforcement chaplain and is the preacher at the church. So it is very, very difficult for me to believe that this man, Mr. Cox, was not afforded some special consideration.”
Wilson said his office is actively investing the matter and he expects his office’s investigation to be presented to the Ellis County Grand Jury in due time.
“This is an allegation of violent behavior and there is no particular standing for anyone required to pursue the felony charge of deadly conduct. That is, no person is required to come forward and say I want to press charges,” Wilson said. “It is a crime against the laws of the State of Texas, much like a DWI for instance. So it doesn’t need somebody to come forward and say these charges need to be pressed. […] For instance, [in] cases of domestic violence the victims in those cases [might] say they don’t want charges filed but those charges get filed anyway.”
Investigating the scene
According to an affidavit submitted for probable cause determination, Deputy Christopher Hilliard arrived to the church where he found Ovilla police officers already on scene.
“They had responded to a gun shots fired [call] called in by local residents and had located this suspicious vehicle in the parking lot with the listed suspect, William Cox standing near it wearing only sneakers and shorts,” Hilliard stated. “William appeared intoxicated and was crying and reported he was upset and responsible for the gun shots.
“He gave consent to search his vehicle and a .38 [caliber] revolver was located along with his identification. A Glock handgun as well as his truck keys were laying on the grass near him. Numerous spent casing from both weapons were found in the parking lot as well as the church.”
Hillard said Sansom, was called and arrived to allow police officer’s access into the building to make sure no one was injured inside.
“No one was inside the church although several bullets were located that had penetrated the worship area and lay on the ground from the rear of the worship area to the front,” Hilliard stated. “The door on the side of the worship area had bullet damage on the doorknob and several rounds fired through the door and [laid] inside the door on the ground. A piece of the door locking mechanism (a screw) had been propelled into the piano and stuck in the keyboard cover.”
Hillard stated that Cox was explained his Miranda rights and consented to speak with the investigator. Cox confessed that he had become very intoxicated and was unhappy about the current events in the news and then used poor judgment while discharging his guns.
In his report, Thompson also detailed his photographic documentation of the scene.
“As I went into the auditorium door located on the east side of the church, I noticed three bullet holes in the east side wall on the inside,” Thompson said. “I recovered on bullet on the auditorium floor between the wall and church pew. As I continued searching the church auditorium, I noticed a double door on the south side of the church that leads outside.
“The door knob on the door was damaged and appeared to have been shot. I began searching outside for bullet holes on the south side [of the] building. I noticed bullet holes on the south building on [the] east wall. One above the widow and one just below [the] roofline on the south corner wall.”
Thompson reported that recovered a loaded .38 caliber Special +P, a Glock 22 G4 and 28 spent casings around Cox’s white 2009 Dodge 2500 pickup truck. The Glock 22 G4, a SCSD issued handgun, was returned to Somervell County Chief Deputy Brian Peterson.
Thompson also reported that on July 14 he received a call from Sanson stating he did not want to file charges on Cox. Thompson advised Sanson that he would have to come to station and complete an affidavit on non-prosecution.
The affidavit shows that Sanson completed and signed this form.
Reaction to the action
Outside of his pastoral duties, Sanson serves as a chaplain for the Midlothian Police Department and is a member of The Blue Knights – a Waxahachie chapter of the national law enforcement motorcycle club. Sanson stated the church thought like it needed to give Cox a second chance by dropping the charges and that forgiveness is one of the foundations of his congregation.
“Charges were pressed and he was even arraigned, but in the interim time I did some research on the fella, Sanson said. “I would have done it whether he was a police officer or not. Just wanted to know why and what was going on.
“What we found out is that he had no history of any kind of problems. This was not a continuing problem. The leadership of the church, not me, but the leadership of the church decided that he really has taken enough.
“He lost his career. He will never be back on the road as a law enforcement person,” Sanson continued. “They decided that in the interest of everybody to show some forgiveness. Give him a second chance so this one stupid thing that didn’t mess up the rest of his life. With a conviction on his record that messes up things even worse.”
Sanson said restitution has been made and one of Cox’s family members, who is a general contractor, has done all the repair work.
Sanson added this was just an opportunity for the church to show its love and compassion to another person. He also, without being asked directly, stated that there was no outside pressure to drop the charges.
“The church is a place for second chances and restorations. […] Now if this were an on going thing of stuff it would have been a different story. So there is really no story here. There is not any kind of cover up,” Sanson said. “The Ellis County Sheriff’s Office encouraged us to press charges, which we did at first but we chose to drop them. No law enforcement agency encouraged us. No individuals encouraged us to do it. This is something that we wanted to do because we thought it was our Christian calling. That is basically it.
“This is just a church reaching out to someone who messed up. This is a human thing. I am a law enforcement person. I want laws to be followed, but at the same time we have to look at individuals. We enforce laws to create change. We got the change without having to go any further.”
According to the Ellis County Sheriff’s Office report from July 14 the status of the case is listed as closed.
Ellis County Sheriff Johnny Brown said, “The complainant dropped the charges. I have nothing to say about it.”
Somervell County Sheriff’s Office Chief Deputy Brian Peterson said cox was no longer employed with the sheriff’s office and was terminated on July 13. Cox started working with the agency on Sept. 13, 2011.
“He was a good officer and did his job well. People seemed to really like him. This was all pretty much a shock to us. It is unfortunate that this happened,” Peterson said. “Everyone is in shock, the whole community. Nobody saw this coming. We are saddened that this happened and praying for all those involved.”
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