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January 23, 2013

Manchester retired sergeant admits to gun, assault charges

BEVERLY — A now-retired Manchester police sergeant pleaded guilty Tuesday to domestic assault and firearms charges stemming from an argument inside his Beverly home, during which John “Jay” Swallow held a gun to his wife’s head last October.

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, but 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 accidentally gone off.

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 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.

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