Peabody sergeant jailed over alleged contact with woman

Credit: Peabody Police Department Facebook photoSgt. Brendan O'Brien and Chief Thomas Griffin in 2018 during a ceremony at Peabody City Hall.

PEABODY — A Peabody police sergeant, already facing charges after allegedly trying to strangle his girlfriend last month when she told him she was ending their relationship, has now been ordered held without bail, after police say he violated a restraining order on Friday. 

Sgt. Brendan O'Brien, 42, admitted to police that he had changed his name on Facebook to "Brian Smith," according to a report by Lt. William Cook. 

O'Brien told the officer he was on Facebook deleting photos because of media coverage and realized that the woman had "unblocked" him. 

According to prosecutors, he had used that false identity to "like" a post by the woman about the return of Josh Gordon to the Patriots. 

O'Brien had been released on conditions, including a no-contact order, following his arraignment and a dangerousness hearing on Sept. 9. He was also the subject of a civil domestic restraining order obtained by the woman. 

A week later, he was back in front of Salem District Court Judge Randy Chapman, who said he had given O'Brien "very specific conditions of release." 

"When he does this sort of behavior, I think a very swift response is required," said Chapman on Monday. 

Chapman granted the request of prosecutor Michael Varone and revoked O'Brien's release in the earlier case for 90 days.

He added an additional condition of house arrest if and when O'Brien is released from custody. 

O'Brien's attorney, Kenneth Anderson, asked Chapman to reconsider, saying O'Brien "gets the point" after three days in Middleton Jail, where he has been held since his arrest on Friday. 

"He has tremendous family support," Anderson told the judge. 

Chapman said that while the contact was at the "low end of the range," "It's a subtle form of intimidation, just letting her know he's out there." The judge went on to say that O'Brien needs to be held to the same standard as anyone else. 

Anderson, who is requesting an immediate trial date, declined to comment outside the courtroom. 

According to a Peabody police report, the 34-year-old Peabody woman went to the police station on Friday afternoon after noticing a "Brian Smith" had liked her post on Josh Gordon, and then noticing that "Smith" had the same scenic photo on his profile as O'Brien. 

She learned from a friend that he had changed his name. 

Police recalled that O'Brien had also allegedly told the woman he knew someone who was using a fake Facebook page to watch her. 

During an interview, O'Brien told Cook that he had been on Facebook a couple of times during the week, "clearing out Facebook. I was trying to change pictures because of the paper. I started the other day. There's still pictures on it." 

Asked if he'd contacted anyone on Facebook, he said, "No, not that I know of, swear to God."

After a few more questions, Cook asked again. "You didn't reach out to anyone?" 

"I screen-shotted her liking me on Facebook for my lawyer because she unblocked me," O'Brien told Cook. "She blocked me all the time. Today I realized she unblocked me. I haven't looked at it in a while. I haven't talked to and don't want to talk to her." 

The incident that led to the first set of charges occurred on Aug. 24 in his Buxton Street apartment, where the couple got into an argument over texts from another woman on O'Brien's phone. She told police that after she threw his phone in anger, O'Brien grabbed her by the throat and threw her to the floor. She told police that when she told him she was leaving and tried to give him her key, he tried to strangle her again. 

He then told her he was "not going down for her," and called the station, telling a dispatcher that she was trying to kill herself with pills. 

He was not arrested at the scene, and later asked to be taken to a hospital. Subsequently, an assistant clerk magistrate on call declined to issue an arrest warrant for O'Brien.

After a criminal complaint charging him with assault and battery and suffocation or strangulation was issued by a Salem District Court clerk, O'Brien appeared for arraignment on Sept. 9. 

O'Brien has been on paid administrative leave since the incident. 

Chief Thomas Griffin said he will be meeting with Mayor Ted Bettencourt to discuss O'Brien's pay status. 

He is also conducting a departmental review of how the incident was handled, something he said is done any time an officer or an immediate family member faces charges. 

"We want to make sure (policies) were followed," said Griffin. 

There will also be an internal affairs investigation into O'Brien's conduct, Griffin said. 

Capt. Eric Zawacki was present at Monday's hearing in Salem. 

A status hearing in both cases is scheduled for Oct. 4.

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

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