Peabody officer held without bail




  • In US
  • 2022-08-12 13:57:00Z
  • By The Salem News, Mass.

Aug. 12-PEABODY - A Peabody police officer was on duty, in uniform and driving a city-owned police cruiser Wednesday morning when he went to the home of an estranged girlfriend in Lynn and broke in by climbing through a back window, police allege - saying it was not the first time that it had happened.

James Festa, 45, of Saugus, a 13-year veteran of the Peabody department, was ordered held without bail following a detention hearing Thursday afternoon in Lynn District Court. He was arraigned Wednesday afternoon and pleaded not guilty to a charge of breaking and entering in the daytime with intent to put a person in fear, a felony.

The decision came after repeated efforts by Festa's attorney, Peter Murano, to persuade Judge Asha White to release his client on a GPS bracelet, first with a curfew and then, when it became apparent White planned to keep Festa in custody, asked him to be put on house arrest instead, saying he feared for the safety of his client in jail due to his work as a police officer and before that, in the state court system.

Murano went on to accuse outgoing District Attorney Jonathan Blodgett of "punishing" his client for requesting a hearing on the prosecution's detention request.

He said he had reached an agreement on Wednesday that Festa could be released on a GPS bracelet. But when no bracelet was available on Wednesday, he and a prosecutor disagreed over whether Festa could go home for the night and return to court on Thursday to have a bracelet put on.

In response to the accusation, Blodgett's office released a statement that said, "The Commonwealth filed a motion to request the court consider whether the defendant should be deemed a danger under the dangerousness statute. The defendant opted to exercise his right to have a full hearing before the court. After the hearing, the judge determined the defendant was a danger. The judge further found that there were no conditions of release that would assure the safety of the victim."

The estranged girlfriend called 911 Wednesday morning to report that Festa had gone through a rear basement window and up the stairs to the back door, where he was demanding to be let inside the woman's home, which is in Lynn near the Salem line.

The woman said the two, who are in the process of divorcing their respective spouses, had been in a relationship for the past three years but that she had recently tried to end it and "he refused to accept the breakup."

The woman told police that while he had not been violent toward her, he had recently broken items in the home during an argument, and had also shown up and entered while on duty and in uniform one other time.

She did not want him arrested, did not request a restraining order, and did not appear in court on Thursday for the hearing - all things Murano pointed out to the judge in his effort to win Festa's release.

Murano said Festa had been concerned about the woman when she did not respond to messages from him and went to the home to check on her.

But a 911 recording that White listened to in his chambers was cited by both the prosecutor and the judge as reasons for concern.

The recording, which the judge sealed for 30 days at the request of Murano, was described as including a male voice screaming at her to open the door and that he would not leave until she did, as well as a woman crying.

Prosecutor Jen Capone said she was concerned by a statement attributed to Festa to the effect that he'd "lost everything anyway," and called his decision to go into the home with a firearm "a recipe for disaster."

"Frankly, I listened to the 911 call and I was somewhat troubled by the statements and demeanor of the male voice on that call," White said. "It did not sound to me like anything close to a well-being check."

A number of Festa's family members, including his estranged wife, attended the hearing and were visibly upset after learning that he would remain in custody for up to 120 days as a result of the judge's ruling.

Murano said he will appeal the judge's decision to a Superior Court judge as early as Friday.

Lt. David Bonfanti, a Peabody Police spokesman, said Festa is now on paid administrative leave pending completion of an internal affairs investigation. The report will be presented to Chief Thomas Griffin and Mayor Ted Bettencourt for a determination as to what action, if any, the city will take.

Festa's service weapon and gun belt, badge, and license to carry a firearm have all been taken by the department pending the outcome.

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

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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