Judge orders man accused of burning wife's belongings to leave Gale Street home; she had already moved out

LACONIA — After contemplating for nearly 10 minutes in total silence, yesterday Judge Jim Carroll of the 4th Circuit Court, Laconia Division ordered a local man accused of burning his wife's belongings Monday afternoon and then assaulting two police officers who came to put the fire out to leave the home until his case can be adjudicated on August 20.

He also ordered John W. Swett, 53, of 53 Gale Avenue to post $1,500 cash bail — $500 to get out of jail immediately and $500 each week for two weeks. Swett is also ordered to surrender any firearms within his control and to report weekly to court until his trial. He must also get professional or pastoral counseling.

Swett is accused of two counts of simple assault (on police officers), criminal mischief (for allegedly burning his wife's belonging), obstructing a government official (for turning off a garden hose being used by a police sergeant to douse the fire), one count of disorderly conduct, and resisting arrest (for allegedly slipping a handcuff and getting into a roll-on-the-ground fight with the arresting officer.)

According to affidavits police filed with the court, Swett's estranged wife had been living away from the home for about six weeks. Prosecutor Jim Sawyer, who was arguing for $15,000 cash-only bail, said she left because she was afraid of him, however to date no paperwork has been submitted to the court regarding domestic violence.

Swett's wife was in court yesterday taking hand-written notes.

According to Sawyer, Swett was convicted of simple assault in 2010 and his wife was the victim. Yesterday Judge Carroll ordered Swett not to contact his wife by any means.

Sawyer also said Swett had substance abuse issues, however the affidavits make no mention of alcohol or drugs during the encounter with police.

Affidavits indicate Swett had allegedly spoken to his wife on the telephone and told her he was going to burn her things. The triggering event, said Sawyer, was her taking money from a bank account.

Sawyer said yesterday when the first police officer arrived, just before 4 p.m. Monday, he found a fire about 4-feet high in a fire pit and what appeared to be woman's shoes and boxes of paperwork nearby.

When the officer asked him what he was burning and if he had a fire permit, he said he was burning wood and he would get a permit. The office said it appeared to him that Swett was burning books and papers, and Swett replied he was burning wood bi-products.

Swett allegedly kept repeatedly telling Officer Kevin Shortt to "get the (explicative) off his property" while Shortt was trying to determine what Swett's problem was.

At one point, said affidavits, Swett turned the hose on the fire, reminded Shortt it was raining, and announced the fire was out. He repeatedly told him to get off his property.

Swett reportedly went inside and Shortt walked to the front door to speak with him. At that point Shortt's affidavit said Swett was initially rude but when he realized Shortt wasn't going away, he "took a breath and stated he was sorry for his behavior but he was very upset with his wife."

When Shortt asked why, Swett alleged that "she stole all the money." Affidavits said he told Shortt, who by this time was joined by two other officers including a sergeant, to go look in the pit for himself if he wanted to know what was burning.

It was, said police, when they went to use the garden hose to put out the fire that Swett allegedly lost his temper and became physically abusive to them.

A man who said he witnessed the altercation called The Daily Sun on Tuesday and said the police were aggressive and one of them over-reacted when Swett called him an "old fart."

"These cops just came looking for a fight," said the witness, adding one of the officers "lost control."

Swett's attorney Allison Schwartz acknowledged that her client had a few misdemeanors in his past but said he was no flight risk, was a contractor with an ongoing and substantial project, and would agreed to any bail terms ordered by Judge Carroll. She said he is a member of a local church.

She said Swett contributes to society by working as a private building contractor and if he were held on cash bail that he couldn't post, would likely loose his current building contract that would  trigger a cascade of financial events that could cost him and his estranged wife their home.

She also said he supports his two young adult children — one of whom lives in the home and one who is in college.

Swett has posted the first $500 of his bail and is free tonight.