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Shotgun blast punctuates Gray standoff

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RUSTY WELLER
Ellis County Press Managing Editor
Questions continue to punctuate the potentially dangerous standoff that has family and friends of John Joe Gray surrounded by law enforcement officials.

With both sides refusing or unable to comment, news has been scarce since August when the Ellis County Press carried two articles on the Gray family. However, an article by Pat Shannan in the October edition of Media Bypass magazine reports the standoff hasn't been quiet.

Here is Shannon's report:

On Labor Day evening, Sept. 4, a group of four beer-swigging holiday revelers decided to pay a visit to the Joe Gray farm near Trinidad, Texas.

Three were riding in the cab of a pickup truck, and one was riding in the back with a shotgun. As they passed the gate at the Gray ranch, Milton Ray Sparks Jr. leveled his shotgun and shot at Jonathon Gray, 30, the oldest son of Joe and Alicia Gray.

Witnesses said the truck hit a bump in the road just before Sparks fired and the blast went over Gray's head and into the tree leaves.

Unbeknownst to Sparks at the time, the Grays' son-in-law was shooting the whole time, too, only with a video camera. The three men in the cab were clearly identifiable on the tape, a copy of which was turned over to the Henderson County Sheriff's Department.

One of the men is said to be with the police department in nearby Malakoff. Milton Sparks was jailed under a $10,000 bond and charged with felony assault with a deadly weapon. He was released on bail the next day.

Henderson County Chief Deputy Bonnie Brownlow told us that the other three were not arrested but were 'under investigation.'

When asked if it was not normal procedure for everyone in the car to be arrested in the event of a drive-by shooting, he said, 'Not necessarily' Brownlow also denied any knowledge of one of the men being a police officer from Malakoff.

When presented with this scenario, a former sheriff from another state said, 'That is strange, because anywhere else in the country they would arrest all of them in a heartbeat, and then they would investigate while all were incarcerated.'

The Assistant Chief of Police of a capital city in yet another state concurred. 'I don't know what the law is in Texas,' he said, when told the scenario, 'but here we would have held all four and confiscated the truck. Then we would check with the District Attorney to see if we had charges on all of them or just the shooter. And if a cop was with them, I can guarantee you he would lose his job, whether he was drunk or sober.'

'The denial is ridiculous,' say Joe and Alicia Gray, who have been under county scrutiny for months. 'There were three people in the cab and one in the back shooting. We gave the sheriff a copy of the video, and it very clearly shows it.'

The day after filing the complaint, the Grays inquired as to why the other three in the truck had not been jailed and charged. Captain Mark Jordan said Texas Rangers were investigating the incident.

That answer did not make sense to anyone outside of the Henderson County Sheriff's Office, as the Texas Rangers certainly do not investigate every shooting in the state. Local skeptics suspect the Sheriff's Department, by claiming there were only two people in the cab, may be attempting to cover up the fact a city policeman from their county was involved in the shooting. He is believed to be a cousin of the shooter and is also named Sparks.

There appears to have been a total blackout with the news media in the area. Even the Dallas Morning News, which has run several articles on the Gray family in recent months, had not mentioned the addition of the drive-by in this very explosive story by the following weekend.

Chief Deputy Sheriff Ronnie Brownlow, who is the sole spokesman for the Sheriff's Department, said the investigation is continuing, but he refused to reveal the names of the other three men involved.

Brownlow, a former Texas Ranger for 19 years before joining the Henderson County Sheriff's Department, did confirm that the Texas Rangers were now investigating this latest incident because the Rangers had charge of the previous case involving 51-year-old Joe Gray.

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