EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

June 15, 2013

SWAT called out for man in pitchfork attack

By Dustin Luca

---- — ANDOVER — An “emotionally disturbed” man who allegedly chased a family member and two caseworkers out of his house with a pitchfork was taken into custody after nearly a two-hour standoff yesterday afternoon, police said.

Thomas Croteau, 54, of 67 Woburn St., remained under hospital evaluation last night and was to be held on $10,000 cash bail once back in police custody. He is expected to be arraigned Monday in Lawrence District Court on three counts of assault with a dangerous weapon, assault and battery with a dangerous weapon and assault and battery on a household member, according to Andover police Lt. Edward Guy.

According to reports, Croteau threatened the family member and two caseworkers with a lead pipe, but was disarmed. Then, he picked up a glass bowl and threw it at the family member, hitting him in the head. Soon after, he grabbed a pitchfork and chased them out of the house, according to Guy.

The family member was not seriously injured, Guy said.

Croteau “went inside the house where he lives and, at that point in time, he refused to speak with us or even come out of the house,” according to Guy, who said police had to “take all precautions, so we ended up calling in (the SWAT team).”

Police called NEMLEC (North East Massachusetts Law Enforcement Council) to send a SWAT team to 67 Woburn St. across from South Elementary School at about 3:45 p.m. Police closed down the area around the house and set up a staging spot at the school.

At 5:39 p.m., police scanner radio reports announced the man was taken into custody. Representatives of the SWAT team succeeded in talking Croteau out of the house, ending the standoff peacefully, Guy said.

“He was extricated without incident,” Guy said. “He was taken to a hospital, where he will be further evaluated for his mental health.”

There were no threats to others communicated throughout the ordeal and nobody else was put at risk, according to Guy. Rumors circulating around the scene that explosives may have been involved were unsubstantiated, he said.

Guy characterized the man as “emotionally disturbed.”

“We have had prior dealings with him, so we’re familiar with him from past dealings. But it had been approximately a year since we had any dealing with him,” Guy said.

The incident brought crowds of onlookers to the front of South Elementary School.

“We were hanging out, and I heard from a megaphone, ‘We will not break into your house,’ “ 12-year-old Michael Godsmith, a Doherty Middle School student who was at South Elementary at the time, said. “Then, a policeman in a red suit told us to leave and a teacher came out of her room and told us nothing was going on, but we were obviously nervous.”

Pranau Veluri, 12, said he thought “it was a joke, a practical joke, but then we saw the SWAT cars.”

Reporter Mark E. Vogler contributed to this story.