By Jeff Balke
By Aaron Reiss
By Angelica Leicht
By Dianna Wray
By Aaron Reiss
By Camilo Smith
By Craig Malisow
By Jeff Balke
Someone is lying in Deer Park.
Pharmacist Garland Gross says he's been subjected to a decadelong campaign of police harassment -- he's seen teams of cops periodically storm into his store for no reason, their guns drawn on startled and baffled employees; he's had foul-mouthed, belligerent cops routinely block his parking spaces and drive-through lane; he's been unjustly arrested and beaten in custody.
Deer Park police, on the other hand, all but say that Gross is nuts. There have never been any bogus police raids on his store, officers have not harassed him and Gross bumped his head on purpose on a police-car roof during his arrest just so he could claim police brutality. Far from bothering Gross, Police Chief Don Little says, Deer Park officers have been subjected to abuse from him for the past ten or so years, have investigated a constant stream of bogus complaints and have kept their cool as they've endured expletive-filled tirades from him.
It may take a federal jury to sort out the truth -- Gross has hired a prominent Dallas lawyer to handle a $5 million civil suit he's filed -- but whoever's lying, it's clear that things have been plenty strange in Deer Park.
Deer Park Pharmacy, near the heart of that suburb's not-quite-bustling Center Street, hardly seems like ground zero for a blood feud.
One of the thinning ranks of independent pharmacies in America, the small, clean establishment offers simply drugs -- not lawn chairs, not photographic equipment, not greeting cards, shampoos or makeup. Some comfortable couches sit in front of a TV that faces the counter where a handful of employees chat with the customers they've been serving for ages. The middle-aged guy picking up blood-pressure medication may have been here before as a toddler, squirming away while his mom bought something for his ear infection.
Gross, 50, bought the place from its longtime owner in 1985. An Austin native who graduated from Deer Park High, Gross worked his way though college and pharmacy school by cutting hair at his dad's barbershop.
"This was my dream store because I have a different philosophy than the giant chain stores," says the slightly built Gross, whose casual hair, hangdog face and trying-to-be-bushy mustache make him look like Sonny Bono in his congressional era. "I just wanted to concentrate on personal service. I don't sell cigarettes, even though we could make a lot of money doing it. We just do medicine."
He says the store grossed $400,000 in his first year; word-of-mouth advertising, along with a little inflation, has raised that to $2 million a year now. He enjoys his work, his coaching of Little League teams, his wife and two kids, his Methodist church and Sunday school.
"I think it's just a pretty typical life, but I enjoy it," he says. "If not for this one blight, it'd be perfect."
That blight, he says, is an inexplicable vendetta by a small but significant portion of the Deer Park police force.
What began with petty annoyances escalated over the years into occasional terror-filled moments looking down the barrel of a police shotgun and culminated in his May 1997 arrest and beating in the Harris County Jail, Gross claims.
"In retrospect, if I knew where this was all going to end up, I probably would have got out a long time ago," he says. "I can't explain how it kept growing and grew into this whole big thing. It's like you and a friend frogging each other, hitting each other on the arm, you know, and then all of a sudden one of you gets mad. This stuff would happen, and (my employees and I would) just say to ourselves that the cops were having a bad day or that 'Man, that guy needs something to do with his time.' We always thought it would blow over or that whatever happened would be the last time something would happen, but it just kept going on and on."
It all began, Gross says, shortly after he purchased the shop and got crosswise with a Deer Park cop.
He says he was alone in the back office late one night with his pet, a miniature Yorkie named Bogie, when the tiny dog's sudden barking caused him to grab a pistol and check the front door. He kept the gun at his side, he says, and as soon as he saw officers instead of burglars at the door he relaxed and let the two in.
They said they were answering a burglar alarm; a perplexed Gross said the alarm hadn't gone off and demonstrated the ear-piercing noise it makes when it is tripped. He called the department to explain he had just intentionally triggered the alarm as a demonstration and then began chatting with the younger of the two officers while the other did some paperwork.
As the pair was leaving, he says, the older cop suddenly asked him why he had pulled a gun on a police officer. He then asked to see Gross's identification; the pharmacist says that his driver's license was in the car, but that he pointed out the photo and pharmacist's license on the wall.