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Willis says she was there for two such incidents and was told about a third; Foulds says he was there on three such occasions. Gross says he's sure of three incidents but believes there was a fourth somewhere during the feud. None of them remembers specific dates.
Sitting in his office relating all this, Gross seems mostly bemused. While there are some conspiracy-theory edges to his tale -- one particularly annoying officer's dad, he notes, is a chief pharmacist at a nearby chain drugstore seeking to buy him out -- he appears to be as rational as anyone else. A steady stream of customers seems to back up the idea that he can at least conduct a business without alienating people.
But if what the Deer Park police say is true, Gross is all but pathological, spinning tales out of whole cloth.
Seven blocks away from the pharmacy, current Deer Park Police Chief Don Little admits to a reporter on the phone that he hesitated before taking the call, and you can just about hear the remnants of the groan he must have voiced when his secretary told him someone wanted to talk about Garland Gross.
"When I hear that name, I go, 'Here we go again,' " he says.
Little doesn't say that his officers and Gross have different versions of events. He doesn't say that the pharmacist tends to exaggerate innocent police actions. He says, simply, that such events as the SWAT raids and the racist comment are figments of Gross's imagination.
"Those things never happened. They just never happened," he says. "How can you defend yourself against something? How can you prove that something didn't happen? It's all just inexplicable -- how do you go about refuting someone who says that a SWAT team showed up, or officers came in with their guns drawn? You can only ask what's reasonable, and does that sound reasonable to you?"
Little says he's confident that he would learn if any of his 50 officers had engaged in any of the activities Gross describes, even if they tried to keep it private as their own little harmless jerking around of a smart-ass John Q. Public. He says he's limited in what he can talk about because there's a federal suit pending but expresses utter bafflement at Garland Gross.
Far from being the harassers, he says, the members of the Deer Park Police Department are the harassed -- harassed by a constant stream of unfounded allegations and complaints from a business owner who, for some unknown reason, has it in for the police force of this refinery town with a population of 28,000.
"Of course, there's no truth to it, all the things he says -- we don't have time to spend dealing with one individual in a city like this. We've got bigger fish to fry."
In 32 years of police work, he says, he's never come across anyone like Gross. "I don't know where he comes up with his allegations. The whole suit is just bizarre to me," he says. "Saying we harassed him ... and the alleged racial comments, it never happened. It just never happened. The hard thing is, the only way to refute is to say it never happened. It's like jousting with ghosts."
Other law-enforcement officials, both inside and outside of Deer Park, won't comment on the record, but those who back the department's version of events hint darkly that Gross is not to be believed.
Assuming Gross's suit goes forward, a jury will eventually decide whether Gross or Little's officers are telling the truth. In their only courtroom battle so far, though, it was Gross who emerged triumphant.
Things came to a head between the pharmacist and the police in May of last year, and the flash point was, not surprisingly, the parking lot.
Three teenagers, dashing in to make an appointment at the tanning salon next to Gross's store, parked across much of the driveway entrance to the small strip shopping center that houses his establishment, he says.
What ensued is a matter of some dispute. Gross says he told the driver not to park there; there was an exchange, and the kid began to drive away before abruptly backing up, getting out and approaching him. Gross says he told the kid, "Don't start something you can't stop," and that the kid hesitated, got back in the car and peeled out onto Center Street. Six witnesses -- three customers, all of whom worked for the school district, the wife of one of those customers and two employees -- all backed Gross's story to one degree or another. Not everyone saw the entire incident.
The kids testified at trial that Gross became enraged at them and that, as they were pulling out, he gave the finger to one of them, a 16-year-old girl. When the driver confronted him about "flipping her off," they said, Gross pulled a gun on them.
They said they went immediately to the police station and told their story; Gross's attorney argued to the jury that an hour or so passed between the alleged incident and the time they contacted the police.
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