Judge Gary Bruce accepted the pleas after Cross admitted to touching the victim’s penis on two separate occasions as well as making contact with his buttocks for purposes of sexual gratification. The incidents took place on March 17 in a restroom at the LEC’s holding facility, following Cross’ arrest of the teen on a possession of marijuana charge.
In exchange for the plea, Cotter dropped the most serious charge of 1st degree criminal sexual conduct. That offense involved digital penetration and is punishable by as much as life in prison.
Cotter told reporters following Cross’ pleas and the revocation of his $250,000 bond that he made the plea offer after the victim backed off earlier statements to authorities.
"The penetration ... was slight ... He wasn’t as certain about the penetration,’’ he said, indicating a guilty verdict on the 1st degree offense would not have been a sure thing.
The prosecutor referred to the crime as "outrageous’’ and "very unusual’’ given Cross’ standing as a police officer. Prior to his arrest on March 25, Cross, a lifelong resident of Niles, had a "stellar past,’’ said Cross’ attorney, Andrew Burch.
Cross’ most impassioned comments occurred after Pierangeli asked for revocation of his bond, which Cross had fulfilled through his posting of a $100,000 home-tether arrangement. Admitting to what he termed a "one-time mistake,’’ Cross argued he’s not a danger to the community and that he needed to remain out of jail until his sentencing to take care of his pregnant girlfriend.
But Pierangeli pointed to the multiple incidents and raised the possibility of further assaults, arguing that Cross had continued to make contact with the victim for a week through telephone messages following the incidents at the LEC. He also had arranged to meet the victim at Cross’ home on March 25, the day Cross was arrested, Pierangeli said.
Burch said the victim was "wired up’’ that day, apparently referring to a recording device he wore for authorities, and emphasized there was no evidence of any misconduct on that date. Still, Bruce revoked Cross’ bond and remanded Cross to the custody of the sheriff.
Cross was fired shortly after his arrest for what Niles Police Chief Ric Huff called "violation of policies.’’ At a press conference at the LEC on March 28, Huff mentioned his surprise when an outside law enforcement agency and local attorney contacted him regarding Cross’ alleged crime. He referred to Cross as "very personable’’ and "a diligent, hard-working employee.’’
Cross also had worked the last two years as an assistant football coach for the Niles High School football team. Niles School Superintendent Richard Weigel has said he wasn’t aware of any complaints regarding Cross during the period he worked with the team.
Cross’ family declined comment but family members and supporters had protested at his arraignment that they believed Cross’ race was a factor in the case. Cross is black and the victim is white.
Staff writer Lou Mumford: