, Salem, MA

October 31, 2012

Judge orders Manchester cop held until trial

The Salem News

---- — BEVERLY — “He’s drunk and he has a gun,” the wife of a Manchester-by-the-Sea police sergeant told a 911 dispatcher in the moments after fleeing her Beverly home late Friday night.

But John “Jay” Swallow’s wife is now refusing to cooperate with prosecutors, telling a Salem District Court judge yesterday that she was invoking her spousal privilege, the right of married couples not to have to testify against each other. Swallow’s attorney said his wife does not want to see her husband locked up.

Despite that, Judge Michael Lauranzano ruled that Swallow, 54, poses too great a danger to both his wife and the public if released. He granted a motion by the district attorney’s office to hold Swallow without bail for up to 90 days or until trial, whichever comes first.

Swallow is facing charges that include domestic assault and battery, assault with a dangerous weapon, and improper storage of firearms, after his wife told police that Swallow had grabbed her and pointed a handgun at her head during an argument.

The gun later went off, moments after Swallow’s wife fled from the home.

Police seized 16 guns from Swallow’s bedroom. They also seized an extensive gun collection in the basement that belongs to an Ipswich man currently serving in Afghanistan.

“This is a very difficult decision,” Lauranzano said. “I’m getting a snapshot of Mr. Swallow’s lowest point in life. I see his three sons here, and I feel horrible. I can’t get around the fact that he took out a gun and grabbed (his wife) and pointed it at her.”

“If he wasn’t a police officer, I wouldn’t be torn this way,” the judge said, suggesting that but for Swallow’s three decades in law enforcement, first in Essex and then, since 1988, in Manchester, he wouldn’t hesitate about holding him in custody.

The judge also pointed to the fact that Swallow’s gun went off — his lawyer says accidentally — after his wife fled.

“God forbid if that gun went off when it was pointed at her,” the judge said. “He’d be here on a homicide charge.”

The judge’s ruling and remarks came following a hearing that lasted just over an hour and included testimony from one of the responding officers, as well as a series of phone calls between Beverly police and Swallow’s wife.

Swallow’s lawyer, Ronald Ranta, initially objected to two of the phone calls, placed by police to Swallow’s wife after the initial 911 call by a neighbor, contending that since Beverly police never told her the calls were being recorded, they violated state wiretapping laws — a charge that Lauranzano quickly rejected.

The first call, from the couple’s Devon Avenue neighbor, came just after midnight. “My neighbor just came in the house and reported her husband has a gun,” the neighbor is heard telling a dispatcher on the recorded 911 call. Swallow’s wife can be heard crying in the background.

“He’s been acting weird all night,” said Swallow’s wife, adding that he had been drinking in his bedroom all evening.

The couple got into an argument, during which she told police he threw her iPhone in the toilet and her keys out a window. She told him to leave, but he refused, she told police.

“I said something I shouldn’t have,” the woman told police, a reference to an ongoing investigation into child sexual abuse allegations against Swallow in New Hampshire.

“I regret saying it,” she told the dispatcher.

After she threatened to testify against him in the New Hampshire case, she told police Swallow left her room, then returned with a Ruger handgun. “He just put it right to my head,” she said.

She went on to express concern for her dog, a dachshund. “I don’t know whether he killed my dog,” she told the dispatcher. “I don’t want my dog dying over there, but I don’t dare go back. Please hurry.”

As prosecutor Jane Prince played the recorded call, the woman sat crying in the courtroom gallery.

As she waited for police, she told an officer on the other end of the line that Swallow appeared to be staring up at her.

Beverly police Patrolman Daniel Brown found Swallow sitting outside his home. He said Swallow was cooperative when ordered to put his hands up, telling the officers, “I don’t want to hurt you guys.”

Brown went on to describe the extensive gun collection in the Swallow home, noting that three guns were not properly secured, and the Ruger that Swallow allegedly aimed at his wife was found in an unlocked nightstand drawer, where police also found the casing of the bullet he had fired.

Prince questioned whether the firing of the gun was an accident, suggesting that it was done in anger.

“This was a near-lethal situation,” the prosecutor said. “Mr. Swallow had been drinking. He pointed a gun at his wife’s head, and then he pointed the gun at his dog’s head.” Prince suggested that while Swallow’s wife did not testify, her comments on the recorded calls and in a statement written after the incident showed she was “extraordinarily fearful” of Swallow.

Ranta, Swallow’s lawyer, said his client has been grappling with some personal issues, including the death of his longtime friend, Hamilton police Sgt. Ken Nagy, who killed himself in February after shooting a Beverly officer he suspected of having a romantic interest in his wife.

Swallow was the first EMT to arrive at the suicide scene that night, his lawyer said.

He urged Lauranzano to release Swallow on conditions that include random alcohol tests, saying he’s not dangerous.

“Since 1980, my client has been protecting the public,” Ranta said.

But the lawyer was not able to assuage the judge’s concerns.

A probable cause hearing is scheduled for Nov. 6.

Manchester’s town counsel said Monday that Swallow is currently on unpaid leave.

Courts reporter Julie Manganis can be reached at 978-338-2521, via email at or on Twitter @SNJulieManganis.