NILES, INDIANA — It was a tumultuous scene Thursday outside Berrien County Trial Court in Niles where supporters and family members of Ivery Cross, a Niles police officer accused of the sexual assault of a 19-year-old inmate in the holding facility at the Niles Law Enforcement Complex, gathered following Cross’s arraignment.
Mary Cross, the officer’s mother and one of the few family members who was willing to identify herself, shouted several times that her son is innocent as Mark Coulston, the Trial Court bailiff, attempted to move the angry group of roughly 40 people outside into the parking lot.
“I don’t believe it,’’ she said, apparently referring to the charges authorized Wednesday against her son, who’s black. “This is a prejudiced town and a prejudiced court.’’
Others took the media to task for their coverage of the high-profile case, yelling at cameramen and other media representatives that they’d “already lynched’’ Cross. One woman who seemed to support that position leveled criticism as well at the county’s criminal justice system, shouting that her mother had been raped several years ago and that the perpetrator had been allowed to go free.
That woman, too, refused to identify herself, as did yet another woman who had to be restrained as she shouted at TV cameramen and reporters.
In court, Cross, 25, a life-long Niles resident and a member of the city’s police department for a little more than two years, hugged family members and supporters prior to his appearance before Schofield. He was represented by R. McKinley Elliott, who told Schofield he was filling in for another attorney who had a conflict.
Neither Elliott nor Steve Pierangeli, a Berrien assistant prosecutor, asked Schofield to recuse himself based on the judge’s previous dealings with Cross in his role as a police officer. Neither did Elliott object when Pierangeli asked the judge to order Cross to turn over his uniform, weapons and other police equipment, to have no contact with the Niles schools where he had worked as an assistant football coach and to impose a curfew.
But Elliott did object when Pierangeli asked that Cross’ $25,000 bond, which he posted Saturday, be increased to $250,000. Pierangeli asked for the higher bond based on the “serious nature’’ of the charges — 1st degree criminal sexual conduct (digital penetration), three counts of 2nd degree criminal sexual conduct (contact with genitals and a buttock) and one count of misconduct of office. The 1st degree charge is punishable by a maximum of life in prison.
Despite Elliott’s objections, Schofield agreed to the $250,000 bond but said Cross could post $100,000 should he submit to home tether. One of Cross’ supporters shouted to the media in the parking lot that they’d have the money raised by this morning.
Cross is scheduled to have a pre-exam conference on Thursday. His preliminary exam is set for April 12.
Suspended by the department without pay, Cross stands accused of assaulting the teenager in a bathroom at the LEC’s holding facility on March 17. The teen had been picked up on a charge of possession of marijuana.