Life-saving lieutenant receives Police Department’s highest honor

Lieutenant Sean Sweeney Sr. with his family after receiving the “Medal of Commendation” on Jan. 3. Photo by Marblehead Police Department

Police Lt. Sean Sweeney Sr. was awarded with the “Medal of Commendation” — the highest department honor one can get — at a Select Board meeting on Jan. 3 for his role in saving a young woman’s life.

Police Chief Dennis King presented the commendation to Sweeney. “It’s an honor to be in a position that I get to recognize exemplary actions in the line of duty,” King said at the meeting.

The recommendation to award Sweeney the commendation came from Sgt. Sean Brady. Upon receiving the recommendation, King conducted a review.

“I knew prior to receiving the recommendation that his actions were exemplar,” King said. “But I needed to conduct my own inquiry to the specifics of what appeared to be Lieutenant Sweeney risking his life for that of another.”

After conducting interviews with others who were on the scene, he confirmed that Sweeney’s actions were “beyond the call of duty” and that he did risk his life for another.

On Dec. 4, 2022, Sweeney responded to a call of a “distraught woman” on Point of Rocks Lane near the edge of the ocean, King read from the official commendation letter.

“As the lieutenant approached, he found a woman that was uncontrollably crying and unresponsive to his attempts to communicate with her,” King read.

Sweeney realized how close she was to the rocks that line the ocean’s edge, how intense the water was coming at the rocks and how slippery the footing was.

“Immediate and deliberate actions needed to be taken as one slight move would result in the woman going into the ocean,” King read. “Suddenly the woman was in fact in the ocean and Lieutenant Sweeney had to make a decision that most likely saved her life.”

Sweeney jumped into the water, which was freezing cold at the time, according to the commendations letter.

“As he was waist deep in the water holding onto a shore rock with one arm, he sees maybe the only opportunity to grab her as the tidal surge brought her back in,” King read. “Lieutenant Sweeney himself would later say had he not been able to grab onto her sweatshirt, she might have been pulled farther out to the ocean water with little chances to survive.”

After Sweeney pulled her out of the water, she was “transported up the rocks” by police and fireman — another dangerous feat — and brought to safety.

Sweeney did not sustain any injuries during this process.

“Lieutenant Sweeney did not hesitate to put his own life at risk to save a young woman who could have easily perished if not for Lieutenant Sweeney,” King read.

King acknowledged that Sweeney does not like being in the spotlight, but said he wanted to give him this commendation given that Sweeney’s retirement is near. Sweeney has been with the department for almost 25 years.

“I wanted to also thank him for his service to the citizens of Marblehead,” King said. “I also wanted to personally thank him for two things: for inspiring both of his sons to become police officers … and then finally for setting an example for both of them to follow.”

In a statement to The Item after the Select Board meeting, King wrote that he thinks Sweeney’s actions on Dec. 4 “most likely saved a young woman’s life.”

“Had he not been decisive and deliberate in his plan to rescue her from the frigid ocean waters, she may have been swept away from the shore,” King wrote.

The Select Board also publicly recognized Sweeney at the meeting on Jan 3.

“Lieutenant Sweeney’s actions are completely within character and representative of the highest traditions of the Marblehead Police Department, whose members are willing to put themselves in harm’s way and to sacrifice for the protection and safety of the citizens of our great town,” said Moses Grader, Select Board Chair.

In a statement to The Item after the meeting, Grader wrote that he has known Sweeney most of his life and wasn’t surprised that he “conducted himself with valor” and risked his life to help someone in danger.

“His service to our country in the Marine Corps and to Marblehead as a police officer reflects a continuous lifelong devotion to the highest standards of integrity, accountability, courage, and selflessness embodied in the oaths of service he pledged to our nation and town,” Grader wrote. “Lt. Sweeney’s citation and Medal of Commendation — as awarded by Police Chief Dennis King — is a fitting expression of that devotion, especially on the eve of Lt. Sweeney’s upcoming retirement.”