A 15-year-old boy testified Wednesday that he was involved in a scuffle at a Derry park this month with two younger boys when he heard someone yelling.
“‘Get on the ground, put your hands up’ … with a lot more profanity,” the boy said he heard.
The person yelling was Derry Mayor Kevin M. Gross, 38, who the boy testified stood a few feet away from him April 14 and pointed a revolver while the teen was on his knees with his hands in the air. Gross told him to stay on the ground and asked if he had a weapon, which he didn’t.
“The gun was within arm’s reach … of me,” the boy testified during Gross’ preliminary hearing. “I saw him pointing the gun directly at my head.”
District Judge Mark Bilik ordered Gross to stand trial on aggravated assault and related charges in connection with the alleged confrontation. The boy and three girls — two 14-year-olds and a 12-year-old — testified during an hour-long hearing that they were scared when Gross pointed a loaded revolver at them until neighbors intervened.
“What were you afraid of?” Assistant District Attorney Pete Caravello asked one of the teen girls.
“Getting shot,” she replied.
State troopers arrested Gross and accused him of taking the gun to the park near his Broad Street home just before 8:30 p.m. after his son was involved in the scuffle with the boy.
Gross had holstered his weapon by the time troopers arrived, and he surrendered it, according to court papers. He has since resigned as mayor.
The girls testified that they were at the park with the boy when the fight broke out. The girls started walking away when Gross arrived with the gun, but he yelled at them to stop, according to testimony. Gross allegedly ordered them at gunpoint to put their belongings down.
“He waved the gun and told us to get over here,” the other 14-year-old girl testified.
Trooper Ty Smith said Gross had 15 rounds of ammunition on him and the revolver was loaded.
Defense attorney Tim Andrews argued that aggravated assault charges should be dismissed because none of the victims was hurt. A boy involved in the scuffle had a minor scrape.
“He merely pointed it while clearly asking this young man if he had a weapon,” Andrews argued. “Mr. Gross, there’s no testimony, ever threatened to kill these children, there’s no testimony he ever touched them with a weapon … and I just think it’s beyond the pale” that prosecutors would charge him with aggravated assault.
Bilik rejected that argument without hearing a response from prosecutors.
“He’s not pointing a stick at him, he’s not pointing a bat at him,” Bilik said. “He’s pointing a loaded gun at him.”
Gross is free on $20,000 bond. Sheriff’s deputies seized more than 55 firearms from his home as part of bond conditions Bilik imposed.
The judge chastised Gross and his wife at the conclusion of Wednesday’s hearing for what Bilik described as an attempt on April 16 to hide guns from sheriff’s deputies.
“I do not appreciate the loops they made the sheriffs go through to get these guns,” he said.
Andrews told Bilik there are no guns remaining at Gross’ home, and he called it “confusion” and a misunderstanding. The majority of those firearms are collectible items that have never been used. The remaining guns are used for hunting or target shooting.
Andrews pointed out after the hearing that witnesses testified Gross asked for police to be called when neighbors intervened. Andrews said police didn’t ask Gross his side of the story and other witnesses have not been interviewed.
“He wasn’t trying to avoid anything, he was trying to bring authorities into it to make sure nothing worse happened,” Andrews said. “He was trying to save these children from a possible assault with a weapon … .”
Andrews plans to continue contesting the aggravated assault charges.
The boy’s stepfather, Jason Caldwell, was happy the judge held that charge.
“There is no common sense sticking a gun in a kid’s face. None whatsoever,” Caldwell said. “The kids were scrapping … and it was over something stupid. You go from fighting over a marker to pointing a .38 at somebody. You can’t make that leap in any stretch of the imagination.”