Vernon man pleads innocent to standoff charges
By Susan Smallheer
Staff Writer | November 14,2012
BRATTLEBORO — A 42-year-old Vernon man pleaded innocent Tuesday to charges stemming from a drunken and suicidal armed standoff at his Vernon apartment all day Monday, according to court records.
No one was hurt in the incident, which ended after Vermont State Police said they shot tear gas canisters into Thaddeus Cross’ apartment on Fort Bridgman Road, virtually only footsteps from the Massachusetts state line.
Cross was severely intoxicated during the incident, according to testimony during his arraignment in criminal court Tuesday afternoon. At one point during the standoff, police said, Cross pulled a friend and fellow tenant into his apartment after she came to his door to check on him. Cross locked the door behind her, police said, and refused to let her go.
The woman later escaped unharmed after Cross was fumbling with her ringing cellphone, according to authorities.
There was no indication in court records or during the arraignment what had triggered the incident and Cross’ decision to start cutting himself and send text messages to a neighbor stating that he had a gun in his mouth.
According to court records, Vernon police were familiar with Cross because of a past history of depression and threatening suicide, as well as drinking alcohol. Cross’s only criminal record was a prior drunken driving conviction a number of years ago, his attorney said.
A mental health screener from Health Care and Rehabilitative Services determined that Cross was not a danger to others or himself, but noted in a report to Judge John Wesley that Cross had an alcohol problem. The screener said that Cross did not remember much of the Monday incident and was “remorseful.”
Cross’ court-appointed attorney James Valente of Brattleboro told Wesley that Cross had numerous ties to the Vernon-Brattleboro community, and had lived in Vernon for 12 years. Both of his teenaged daughters live in Vernon with his ex-wife, Valente said.
Valente said Cross was self-employed, and sold scrap metal to pay his bills.
Cross, who appeared in a striped jersey, gym shorts and flipflops, his legs and hands manacled, was later released with a long list of conditions imposed by Wesley, including that he check in daily with the Brattleboro Police Department and undergo alcohol testing daily.
If he violates those conditions, Valente later told reporters after the arraignment, he would go to jail.
Cross was charged with three counts including felony unlawful restraint, simple assault by menace and reckless endangerment. The last two charges are misdemeanors.
Valente challenged the legal basis for reckless endangerment, saying there was no evidence Cross ever threatened anyone with a gun besides himself.
According to the brief affidavit submitted by the Vernon police department about the incident, the apartment building’s manager, Matthew License, had called 911, saying another tenant Mindy Hemingway, had been receiving text messages from Cross, which included photos of cuts Cross had inflicted on his arms.
Vermont State Police tactical unit fired the tear gas into Cross’ apartment after negotiations failed to convince him to surrender. Police had shut down Route 142, which is locally known as the Fort Bridgman Road on Monday during the hours-long standoff. According to court documents, police first got involved in the incident at about 7:30 a.m., and that incident only ended after 7 p.m.
Windham County State’s Attorney Tracy Shriver wanted Cross held for lack of $2,500 cash bail, saying Cross had used weapons against a neighbor and police.
More than 30 police officers responded to the standoff, which ended with the decision to lob tear gas into Cross’ apartment. All five apartments in the building had been evacuated earlier in the day, and tenants were not allowed back into their tear-gas filled apartments until Tuesday.
Wesley ordered Cross not to drink alcohol and not to possess any firearms, as well as having no contact with either License or Hemingway.
In a follow-up interview with reporters, Valente declined to say whether Cross was remorseful as the screener had said, noting Cross had pleaded innocent.
But Valente said his client was competent. “I was pleasantly surprised how grounded he was and self conscious,” he said.
He said that Cross would return to his Vernon apartment, where he has lived for seven years, “after he patches up some windows.”