PEABODY — A Peabody police sergeant has been charged with assaulting and attempting to strangle a girlfriend after she told him she was ending their relationship last month.
Sgt. Brendan O'Brien, 42, of Buxton Street in Peabody, pleaded not guilty to the charges — assault and battery on a domestic partner and suffocation or strangulation — during his arraignment Monday in Salem District Court.
Prosecutors had moved to have O'Brien detained as a danger — and following a hearing Monday afternoon, Judge Randy Chapman released him on conditions that included that he surrender all weapons, stay away from and not contact his former girlfriend, not use alcohol, and to be checked with a home alcohol monitor that will require him to submit random breath samples to ensure he complies.
The woman, who had been dating O'Brien since last year, told police that the two had gone to dinner on the evening of Aug. 24 with another couple at Hooters in Saugus, where they had two or three beers.
At some point during the evening, the woman said "things didn't add up," and once back at his apartment, she asked to see his phone, where she said she found text messages between O'Brien and another woman. She said that she threw his phone in anger, and O'Brien then grabbed her by the neck and threw her to the floor.
Moments later, she told police, she tried to give O'Brien his apartment key and end the relationship, but he again grabbed her by the throat. Then, she said, he told her he was going to call the police station to report that she was attempting to kill herself.
He also allegedly told her "he was not going down for her," according to a police report.
Police received the call from O'Brien shortly after 8 p.m.
O'Brien told his fellow officers that the woman had told him "go ahead, just kill me," then swallowed ibuprofen or Tylenol pills when he refused.
The woman told police she hadn't taken any pills and declined medical attention.
Police did notice pills scattered on the floor in several rooms, but noticed that the woman did not appear to have any symptoms of overdosing on ibuprofen or Tylenol.
Police saw a red mark on her neck. They noted that O'Brien had scratches on his body.
The woman, in a subsequent interview with police, said O'Brien had assaulted her on prior occasions, including an incident on New Year's Eve when he demanded that she get out because her coughing and sniffling was waking him up; when she didn't immediately comply, she told police, he slapped and punched her and pushed her out of bed.
She also reported an incident in June when he allegedly gave her a black eye after she questioned his account of being at a bar until 5 a.m.
She also said that O'Brien had told her that while he was away on a recent trip, he had someone from the department keeping an eye on her via a fake Facebook page that had "friended" her.
O'Brien was not arrested at the scene. He instead was asked for his service and personal handguns and police ID, and was allowed to change clothing before going to the station. Shortly after arriving at the station, he complained of feeling ill and was taken to Beverly Hospital by ambulance.
Police assisted the woman with obtaining an emergency restraining order from an on-call judge.
After arriving at the station that evening and being apprised of the situation, Peabody police Chief Thomas Griffin asked Capt. Scott Richards to obtain an arrest warrant for O'Brien that night, according to police reports filed in court Monday. But an on-call assistant clerk magistrate from Peabody District Court did not immediately respond to a call from the station. After she returned the call at 12:04 a.m. on the 25th, the on-call assistant clerk magistrate declined to issue the warrant. It was not immediately clear why.
Instead, police applied for a warrant at Peabody District Court. But court officials opted to ask that the case be transferred to a different court to avoid a conflict of interest.
The complaint was issued on Sept. 5 by a Salem District Court clerk.
Griffin said Tuesday that he immediately placed O'Brien on paid administrative leave on the night of the alleged incident.
That paid status is subject to change once the department reviews documents from Monday's hearing, Griffin said.
O'Brien is due back in court on Oct. 4.
Courts reporter Julie Manganis can be reached at 978-338-2521, by email at email@example.com or on Twitter at @SNJulieManganis.