A jury Tuesday found Alan Swinney, a self-proclaimed Proud Boy, guilty of assault, menacing and unlawful use of a weapon for pulling out a loaded revolver, firing paintballs and spraying bear Mace at counterprotesters in Portland last year.
Prosecutors called him a “one man police force” and “vigilante cowboy,” while Swinney and his lawyer argued he was just acting in self-defense against “agitators” who wouldn’t stop harassing him.
The charges stem from demonstrations on Aug. 15 and Aug. 22, 2020, when Portland police remained out of sight as clashes erupted between right-wing and left-wing groups armed with paintballs, chemical sprays, umbrellas and shields outside the Multnomah County Justice Center.
The jury found Swinney, 51, guilty of 11 of 12 charges: one count of second-degree assault, three counts of unlawful use of a weapon, two counts of unlawful use of Mace, and one count each of pointing a firearm at another, attempted second-degree assault, fourth-degree assault, attempted fourth-degree assault and menacing.
The jurors deliberated for less than three hours inside the Multnomah County courtroom where the four-day trial was held instead of going to a smaller jury room to permit social distancing due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Swinney, of Texas, came to Portland “dressed for battle” in August 2020 because of his “hatred for the left, for antifa,” declared on social media a “civil war” and urged supporters to join him for “more than a normal flag wave,” Deputy District Attorney Reid C. Schweitzer told jurors in his closing arguments.
Jurors saw photos of Swinney on those two days in August 2020. He was dressed in a helmet with a face shield, holding a kickboxing-type padded arm shield, long wooden flag pole, paintball gun and knife on his waist at “Back the Blue” flag wave events outside the downtown Justice Center. Swinney added a .357 Magnum revolver on his hip on the second day that August.
At 6 foot 5 inches tall, Swinney stood out in the crowd.
“He came here with a six shooter so that he could terrorize our social justice movement here in Portland, plain and simple,” said co-prosecutor, deputy district attorney Nathan Vasquez.
“He is not a sheriff. He is not a law man. He has no authority over the streets here in Portland. … He wanted to be that vigilante cowboy and tell people what they could or could not do.”
Swinney, wearing a dark suit and white dress shirt at trial, took the witness stand for nearly eight hours Friday. He testified that he wore riot-control gear to the two flag-waving events to protect himself and others in his group from what he called “agitators” who throw bottles, rocks and other objects and harass them as they show support for police.
Defense lawyer Joseph Westover said Swinney worked to “keep a buffer” between counterprotesters who were “encroaching” on him and his group as they were leaving the Justice Center and walking back to a parking garage on Aug. 15, 2020. The counterprotesters followed and filmed Swinney, taunting and yelling at him, Westover said.
He shot people with paintballs to mark the “aggressors,” to make them easily identifiable in case police showed up, his lawyer said. One man sneaked up behind Swinney, loudly clapping his hands, as Swinney and his group were walking away. Another counterprotester was carrying a collapsible baton, according to Westover.
“To say that following somebody doesn’t create some sort of apprehension is just absurd,” Westover said. “Justified self-defense does not require that somebody hit you first.”
He urged jurors not to let their emotions decide the case, even if they detest Swinney’s political views.
Prosecutors dismissed Swinney’s self-defense argument, saying Swinney was the agitator and pointed to multiple social media messages he posted on the Parler site prior to the Portland events, encouraging “patriots” to join him on Aug. 22, 2020, pledging, “THIS IS WHERE WE HOLD THEM! THIS IS WHERE WE FIGHT.”
On Aug. 15, 2020, prosecutors said Swinney pointed and fired his paintball gun at Jason Britton as Britton was filming him, striking Britton in the face near the corner of his left eye. Swinney also threatened to shoot Britton “with a real gun,” prosecutors said.
Britton said he felt a dull, throbbing pain for about a week and experienced sensitivity to light. His full vision hasn’t returned, he said.
Swinney testified that he was actually aiming at another counterprotester wearing a gas mask who was standing behind Britton. He said he aimed to hit the front of the mask so that man would remove his mask and get overcome by the bear spray already deployed and move away. He didn’t intend to shoot Britton, he and his lawyer said.
The jury appeared to have been swayed by Swinney’s argument. They found him not guilty of intentionally assaulting Britton but guilty of second-degree assault under the theory of so-called “transferrable intent,” meaning they found Swinney intentionally attempted to injure another person, but his paintball shot caused injury to Britton instead.
On Aug. 22, video caught Swinney pointing a loaded Ruger .357 Magnum revolver at counterprotesters outside the Justice Center. Witness Brittany Correll testified, “A bunch of people ducked, and then I saw the gun.”
Megan Steward, who came to observe the protests that day, said Swinney, unprovoked, fired paintballs at her, striking her in the chest at Chapman Square, and then later that day sprayed her in the face with chemical spray.
The jury found Swinney not guilty of second-degree assault stemming from Steward’s allegations. Steward has filed a civil suit against Swinney.
Swinney, who served in the U.S. Army, has “Proud Boys” tattooed on his forearm. The far-right group was at the forefront of the Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol and is known for violent confrontations. Swinney remained in custody in Portland on the local charges during the Capitol takeover.
Stephen Piggott, program analyst at Western States Center, called Swinney’s actions “profoundly disturbing,” and the trial significant, as it “comes at a time when Portland and municipalities around the state are dealing with alarming levels of anti-democratic mobilizations and political violence.’’
Western States Center tracks extremist groups and provides support to social movements.
A sentencing date has not been set yet.