BY ETHAN FORMAN
---- — BEVERLY — Frantic 911 tapes recorded the night of a domestic disturbance in which a shot was fired and police uncovered a large cache of weapons in a North Beverly home led a judge to reject new terms for a Manchester-by-the-Sea police sergeant being held without bail.
In Salem Superior Court yesterday, Superior Court Judge John Lu denied a bail review request by Danvers attorney Ronald Ranta to have John H. “Jay” Swallow placed in a residential alcohol treatment facility rather than having him locked up 23 hours a day. Swallow has been sequestered in the jail’s infirmary because he is a police officer and must be kept away from the jail’s population out of concern for his safety.
“Are there any conditions of release that would satisfy the public?” Ranta asked.
Swallow has pleaded not guilty in Salem District Court to charges of assault and battery, assault with a dangerous weapon, discharging a firearm within 500 feet of a dwelling, witness intimidation, and three firearms security violations. At the end of October, a judge ordered Swallow held without bail for 90 days. He has since been suspended from his job and is on unpaid leave.
Ranta questioned an additional charge brought by prosecutors in the weeks after the case of carrying a firearm while intoxicated.
“One of the things I don’t like to do is kick the can down the road without a resolution,” said Lu, who said the 911 calls were persuasive. “It’s clear to the court there appears to be ... a very troubling and serious alcohol issue that is not being addressed.”
Without knowledge of a program or its parameters and security, Lu denied the request.
On the dramatic tape played in court, a neighbor alleges that Swallow, 54, was drunk the night of the incident, around midnight on Friday, Oct. 26; that he threatened to shoot a dog; and that there were a lot of weapons in the house. The neighbor told police that Swallow’s wife was at her house.
Then, there was the voice of a woman saying Swallow had been acting weird that day and started drinking. The woman said she asked Swallow to leave and he threw her iPhone into the toilet and her keys out the window. The woman, who prosecutors said was Swallow’s wife speaking from the neighbor’s house, told police she told Swallow, “I want you to leave now” and to call someone and go with them. She said things escalated from there.
“I said something I shouldn’t have said,” the woman said to police dispatchers. When police asked if there were weapons in the house, the woman replied, “a ton of them,” and she added that Swallow threatened to kill her dog, a dachshund.
“Please hurry,” the woman is heard saying hysterically.
Police said they found Swallow outside the home, and he was arrested without incident, telling officers he did not want them to get hurt.
On the tape, police could also be heard assessing the situation, that Swallow’s wife was next door and there was an arsenal of weapons in the house.
Assistant District Attorney Meg Morrissey said Swallow’s wife immediately asserted her marital privilege not to testify against her husband.
Morrissey also argued that Swallow continue to be held without bail, as the incident involves him getting a gun, pointing it at the victim and the dog, and the gun going off.
“I can’t think of anything more dangerous,” Morrissey said. “As you can see from the pictures, there are tons of guns in the house.”
Police earlier said that the victim had been arguing with Swallow, who left the room and returned with a silver Ruger handgun, which he pointed at the victim. The victim told police that Swallow pointed the gun at the dog and threatened to kill it. When Swallow refused requests to leave, the victim pushed past him and went to the neighbor’s. As she did so, a single shot could be heard inside. Swallow told police that the gun had accidentally discharged when he went to put it away.
Police found a collection of handguns, rifles and cans of black powder belonging to Swallow, as well as a cache of weapons, a large amount of ammunition and four samurai swords.
Ranta told the court that the guns belong to an Ipswich man currently deployed in Afghanistan who inherited them from his father, and they were safely and properly locked in the basement. Three handguns were stored in a closed, unlocked container. Many of the firearms being stored were inoperative antiques.
Swallow served in the Navy from 1975 to 1979, became a police officer in Essex from 1980 to 1988 and then went to work as a police officer in Manchester-by-the-Sea, Ranta said. He also is an EMT. Ranta asked that after Swallow’s years of service, both in the military and serving the public, that this one moment not define his life.
“There is no question this is the most horrific thing that has ever happened” to him, Ranta said. The gun went off accidentally when he put it down, Ranta said. Swallow knew enough as a police officer, he said, to put his hands up when a SWAT team approached out of concern that no one get hurt.
When the issue of an ongoing New Hampshire investigation into allegations that Swallow had indecently assaulted a family member came up in court, the discussion moved to a sidebar conference. The allegation was contained in a police report and came to light during a prior court hearing.
Staff writer Ethan Forman can be reached at 978-338-2673, by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at @DanverSalemNews.