An 88-year-old ex-New York City police officer is threatening to sue gardaí after alleging up to 10 armed officers raided his home in Co Cavan looking for a decommissioned firearm more than half a century old.
Jude McGovern, from Swanlinbar, said he has taken to bed suffering from stress after being treated like one of the FBI’s “Ten Most Wanted” fugitives during the “total overreaction” on Saturday morning.
The pensioner had just returned from his daily six-minute drive to Kinawley, Co Fermanagh, just across the Border, where he buys The Irish Times, when he found “eight to 10 armed officers” had “forced” their way into his house at around 9.30am.
“You would swear I was on the Ten Most Wanted list,” he said.
“I called them a litany of four-letter words. It was a total overreaction, totally unprofessional. They could have just knocked on the door and asked is Jude here. But they were able to force the door in and then go upstairs, pulling out my drawers, looking at my stuff.”
Originally from Swanlinbar, Mr McGovern emigrated in 1957 to the US, where he served for a time in the same division of the US Army as Elvis Presley — “but I never saw him” — and was based at Ford Hood in Texas. Then he was stationed for 18 months in the US military base in Neu-Ulm, Germany.
Afterwards Mr McGovern became a New York Police Department cop, before being assigned as a correctional officer at the notorious Rikers Island, the city’s largest prison.
During this time, he says, he was authorised to buy a personal protection firearm for when he was off-duty. The Smith and Wesson five shot revolver was purchased in Lower Manhattan for $75 in 1968. Before returning to retire in Ireland in 1996, he had it decommissioned across the Hudson River in Jersey.
Mr McGovern accepts he never declared the firearm on his arrival in Ireland, but that he was keeping it as a collector and for sentimental reasons.
“Technically, I was wrong I suppose, but then it wasn’t functional. It was a sentimental piece for me – I wasn’t holding up post offices or anything.”
Mr McGovern said he “foolishly” showed it to a local man about five years ago.
“I was talking to this guy at the door – Swanlinbar is a small town and people stop to talk. He was with his wife and kid and he asked if I carried a gun when I was in the cops,” he said.
“I said, as a matter of fact, I still have it. He said he’d love to see it, so I went upstairs and brought down the Smith and Wesson, and he said ‘Can I take a picture?’. Didn’t he put it on Facebook.
“My pictures were in the background, so that is where I think the Garda Síochána spotted this thing, after 4½ years.”
Mr McGovern said he was shocked when he came home on Saturday to find the large Garda presence including “four patrol cars and two unmarked cars”.
The gardaí had a warrant signed by a district judge on April 7th, he said, and cited the “unlawful possession of a firearm in suspicious circumstances” under the Firearms Act 1964.
“They were armed with rifles and everything. Now the whole town is talking about it; it is the number one topic.” He said he was contacting a solicitor in Ballinamore “and I’ll have to take his advice”.
“We have no police, no post office, no nothing in Swanlinbar, yet the police in this country could send 10 armed officers, four cars, two unmarked cars, to take me on, like I’m a danger to society
– I’m 88 years old. I’m going to sue them.”
Mr McGovern said he patrolled the streets of New York for 20 years “carrying that pistol in a holster on my leg 24/7, and I never pulled it out of its socket.” He “never even liked guns to be honest, I just kept it as it was sentimental”, he added.
Garda headquarters confirmed a “suspected unlicensed firearm” was seized during a search of property at Main Street in Swanlinbar on Saturday morning, saying it had been sent to the ballistics unit for analysis.
The Garda, however, declined to answer a number of questions and allegations about the operations. “An Garda Síochána do not comment on named individuals,” a Garda spokeswoman said.