WATERVILLE, Maine — Waterville police are seeking $12,000 in restitution from a man who was at the center of a standoff when he threatened suicide in early December.
Gary Cross of Troy surrendered eight hours after parking his truck in the police department's parking lot, armed with a gun. Waterville police say the situation required resources from multiple law enforcement agencies, and that they need to recoup those costs. But the man being charged says he shouldn't have to pay for what he says was an excessive response from police.
What brought Gary Cross to the Waterville police parking lot December 7th KL started brewing years before. First, he and his wife lost a lot of their personal savings in the financial crisis of 2008. Cross, who had a successful business as a software dealer for the construction industry, figured he'd just work harder. But a few years later, the software company was bought out, and his job was eliminated.
"I panicked. Because there was my life's business of over 22 years, gone," says Cross. "Overnight. No warning. No nothing. Just basically, gone."
Cross figured he'd invest his way out of his financial troubles. But he says things only got worse over the next two years. Then, on the morning of Monday, December 7, Cross opened a letter from his bank. The terms of his credit line were due to expire in July, and he'd have to negotiate new terms. Cross says he knew there was no way that was going to happen. The only solution he could see was his life insurance policy. So, he spent a few hours getting his affairs in order, left a note for his wife and grown kids, then got in his truck with a handgun loaded with two bullets. He drove south to Waterville, away from his home and his town, so his wife wouldn't see a daily reminder of what he did. His first plan was to go to a hospital.
"And I'll go to the emergency center area outside," Cross says. "I'd find a place where there's no people, I'd call 911, tell them what I'm going to do, do it, and that way a professional person would find me, and not any innocent people walking by and having to deal with that."
But there were too many people at the hospital, so he drove to the police department. He found a vacant area in the parking lot, called 911, hung up, then got out of the car with his gun. He says he didn't want to hurt anyone else, or the car. Meanwhile, about a half dozen law enforcement agencies responded, says Waterville Deputy Police Chief Charles Rumsey.
"To keep Mr. Cross and other members of the public safe, we closed down a large number of side streets," says Rumsey.
A Maine State Police crisis negotiator called Cross, and they spoke for a couple hours.
"It took a long time because I just couldn't see my way clear," Cross says. "I was so afraid that all the shame would come crashing down, and I couldn't look at my wife, and I was so ashamed of what I had done."
Cross says he couldn't stop thinking about his wife, his kids, and his grandkids. He finally surrendered to police. But the story wasn't over. A few weeks later — on December 26th — Cross was hand-delivered a summons for creating a police standofff. Waterville Deputy Police Chief Rumsey says the department is seeking $12,000.
"The $12,000 represents the cost of the man hours for our response," Rumsey says.
But one mental health advocate says the department's decision doesn't make sense.
"This should be a story about how effectively Waterville PD handled the situation instead of a case about serving a civil summons to someone who was in a suicidal crisis to have them pay the bill," says Jenna Mehnert, Executive Director of the National Alliance on Mental Illness in Maine.
She says unfortunately, Cross is not alone in the crisis he faced.
"In fact, Maine has a unique high risk group of suicide for men aged 35 to 55, often due to economic challenges," Mehnert says.
And if they reach out to police for help, she says, they shouldn't be punished. But Deputy Chief Rumsey says the situation Cross created is unique, by his own choice and that's why police issued him a summons.
"We deal with people who are despondent, sometimes suicidal, sometimes barricaded in their homes or other locations that we're able to work through the process without a huge police response," Rumsey says. "And that are responsive to our concerns and decide to allow us to give them assistance and get them to the hospital without the size and length of the response necessitated in this case because of the choices and actions of Mr. Cross."
Gary Cross says he regrets his actions on December 7, and he understands that police need to protect the public. But he says the extent of the response to the situation was unnecessary and that he shouldn't have to pay. He also worries about the message it sends to others who are in distress.
"It scares me to death to think about what that may do to somebody else in the future, because they're not going to want to reach out," says Cross
Deputy Chief Rumsey says Waterville police will always be there to assist people in need. Cross meanwhile, says he plans to fight summons in court.