Rockport officer indicted for alleged assault on wife — (The Gloucester Times)

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The Gloucester Times

Tom Farmer

Rockport police officer Robert O’Neil was indicted yesterday on several assault charges.

A Rockport police officer was indicted on multiple assault charges yesterday in connection with a January incident in which he allegedly fired a handgun during a domestic dispute with his wife.

But the indictment did not include a count of attempted murder as he was originally charged.

Robert O’Neil, 38, will be arraigned in Salem Superior Court within two weeks after being indicted yesterday by an Essex County grand jury for assault and battery with a dangerous weapon, three counts of assault with a dangerous weapon, reckless endangerment of a child, domestic assault and battery, malicious destruction of property under $250 and illegal discharge of a firearm within 500 feet of a dwelling.

When O’Neil was arrested Jan. 12 at his Darby Lane home, Rockport police charged him with armed assault with intent to murder. Stephen O’Connell, a spokesman for District Attorney Jonathan Blodgett, said the attempted murder charge will be nol-prossed by the prosecution — in effect dismissed — when O’Neil’s case is formally transferred from Gloucester District Court to Superior Court.

“We determined these charges (handed up by the grand jury) to be the appropriate charges based on the evidence,” O’Connell said yesterday.

O’Neil, who is free on personal recognizance with a number of conditions, is suspended from the Rockport Police Department without pay. His attorney, Thomas Drechsler, did not respond to a request for comment late yesterday afternoon.

According to authorities, O’Neil fired a round from a .40-caliber handgun six inches from his wife’s head into a chair while the couple’s 2-year-old daughter was in the house.

During a dangerousness hearing Jan. 19 in Gloucester District Court in which prosecutors sought to have O’Neil held without bail, his wife, Rosa Benito, testified that O’Neil had been drinking and taking antidepressants and antianxiety drugs — including Ambien, a sleep medication, and Celexa and Paxipam — and had slept little since his last work shift two days before the Jan. 12 incident.

When O’Neil came back from taking his daughter to breakfast that morning, his wife told police that he was carrying the girl in one arm and can of beer in the other. The child endangerment charge in yesterday’s indictment is new, authorities said.

When Benito told O’Neil their marriage was over and telephoned her sister in the Dominican Republic, O’Neil took the phone from her, and slapped her on the left side while their daughter was on Benito’s lap, police said.

O’Neil then broke the cordless phones in the house, including his own cell phone, according to police. While arguing in their living room with O’Neil sitting on a couch and Benito facing him from a stuffed brown leather chair, Benito testified that she noticed O’Neil pointing a black Glock .40-caliber pistol at her head.

While covering her eyes, she heard a gunshot, Benito told police. The bullet, recovered later by state police, went through the chair and into the wall behind it.

Although District Court Judge Richard Mori said he was concerned about O’Neil, he did not believe O’Neil was dangerous enough to be held without bail for 90 days.

“I’m afraid,” Benito said during the Jan. 19 dangerousness hearing. “I don’t feel safe, and I don’t feel that my daughter is safe. I don’t want this happening again in my life.”

Over the objections of prosecutors and Benito, Mori released O’Neil to the custody of his sister, Mary O’Neil Ransom of Walpole. Mori set conditions that O’Neil wear a global positioning satellite bracelet, and confine himself to his sister’s home except to complete substance abuse treatment and travel to court appearances and appointments with his attorney and doctors. O’Neil was also ordered to turn in his passport and abide by the conditions of a restraining order his wife was granted.

O’Connell declined comment yesterday on whether prosecutors would attempt to have bail imposed on O’Neil when he is arraigned in Superior Court.

O’Neil had been suspended by the Rockport Police Department for two days last fall following an incident where he bought alcohol while on duty. As part of the suspension, O’Neil was required in October to enroll in out-patient substance counseling at Beverly Hospital, which police Chief Tom McCarthy said he completed. Prosecutors also told Mori that O’Neil had been arrested for drunken driving in Brookline in 1989 before he became a police officer.

Rockport hired O’Neil as a patrolman in July 1999 and he was treasurer of the Rockport Police Association in 2000. In 2001, he took charge of the Rockport School District’s DARE program, which gives a series of lessons about drug and alcohol use to fifth-graders. He also served for a period as the department’s domestic violence officer.