BY JULIE MANGANIS
---- — BEVERLY — A now-retired Manchester-by-the-Sea police sergeant pleaded guilty yesterday to domestic assault and firearms charges stemming from an argument last October inside his Beverly home, during which John “Jay” Swallow held a gun to his wife’s head.
Swallow, 54, of Devon Avenue, was sentenced to serve six months of a two-year jail term by Salem District Court Judge Michael Lauranzano, who also imposed two years of supervised probation on Swallow.
Because Swallow has been held without bail at Middleton Jail since his Oct. 27 arrest and received credit for that time, he will be eligible for parole in three days.
Prosecutor Michelle DeCourcey, who had urged a year behind bars for Swallow, described the case to Lauranzano.
She said that after a night of arguing, Swallow’s wife — who invoked her spousal privilege not to testify against her husband in the case — told him she had decided to testify against him in an investigation in New Hampshire involving sexual abuse allegations.
She told police that an “enraged” Swallow returned with a silver Ruger handgun, grabbed her by her shirt and held the gun to her head, then turned it on her dog, threatening to shoot the dachshund. She managed to flee the room.
As she left the house, she heard the gun go off, DeCourcey told the judge.
Swallow, who was cooperative with officers when they arrived at his home, said the gun had gone off accidentally.
On that point, Lauranzano had a number of questions, asking about the trajectory of the bullet, which had gone through a door, bounced off a wall and landed in a dresser. The judge also questioned why the safety was off.
DeCourcey said prosecutors “are not conceding that it was accidental,” though Swallow’s attorney, Ron Ranta, insisted that it was unintentional.
Swallow’s wife, while not agreeing to testify, did ask to make a victim-impact statement, during which she lambasted Beverly police, for leaving her alone for more than two hours while they searched the house for guns, and the district attorney’s office, saying that she was questioned by a prosecutor who didn’t identify herself as one (assistant district attorneys typically wear identification badges).
“It’s just been a very frustrating time,” said the woman, an emergency room nurse who said, “I’ve come to the conclusion that I would advise people not to call 911. What it’s put me through is worse than my husband put me through.”
The judge was also told about the large number of guns in the home. Swallow had 16 guns in his bedroom (his wife had her own bedroom in the home), and police found hundreds of other guns in the basement, along with thousands of rounds of ammunition.
The guns in the basement, Ranta said, had belonged to a local defense attorney who died; Swallow was storing the guns in his home while the attorney’s son served overseas in Afghanistan.
Three of the guns in the house were not properly secured, leading to charges of improper storage of firearms. Swallow also admitted to assault and battery and assault with a dangerous weapon.
Ranta said Swallow, whose former chief wrote a letter of support to the judge, has retired from the department.
Ranta urged the judge to impose a continuation without a finding in the case, saying a guilty finding would jeopardize Swallow’s other career as an emergency medical technician.
It was in that role that Swallow came upon the suicide of a longtime friend and colleague, Hamilton police Sgt. Ken Nagy, who took his own life last February after shooting Beverly Patrolman Jason Lantych. Ranta said that incident touched off a downward spiral for Swallow.
Ranta and Swallow’s wife instead pleaded for him to be let out yesterday, saying that they had a spot for him at the Brattleboro Retreat, a substance-abuse program for law enforcement and public safety officials.
But Lauranzano said he was struggling to reconcile the notion of a longtime public servant with someone who would point a loaded firearm at his wife’s head.
He decided to impose guilty findings and the jail terms, along with probation for two years, during which Swallow will have to undergo mental health and alcohol evaluations and submit to random tests.
Courts reporter Julie Manganis can be reached at 978-338-2521, via email at email@example.com or on Twitter @SNJulieManganis.