A Chattanooga bicyclist who says he was pepper-sprayed by teen-agers after they allegedly harassed him on the road last Saturday was distressed to learn earlier this week that he was being investigated by Sheriff’s deputies for committing felonies.
Now, it’s the local Sheriff’s office that’s under public scrutiny for how it’s conducting the investigation.
Anders Swanson, 30, says the teens — first two of them in a pickup truck, then joined by a third and driving an SUV — repeatedly harassed him as he trained on roads in the Tennessee Valley Authority’s Raccoon Mountain recreation area that day.
Driving up to him in the parking lot after his ride, he said they sprayed him in the face from a squirt gun containing mace or pepper spray and left him on the ground gasping for air as they sped away.
Swanson had a photo of the vehicle, driver and passenger in the earlier run-in, which he gave to Chattanooga police who had initially interviewed him during his ride and again in the parking lot after EMTs treated him after he was sprayed.
Swanson also posted the photos on Facebook that evening with the story of what happened (see Facebook post). The next day, Chattanooga police told him they had talked to the teens and they confessed.
But everything changed by Monday. The case had been transferred to neighboring Marion County because it fell in their jurisdiction. The teens later told their parents and a Marion County Sheriff’s investigator that they sprayed Swanson because they felt threatened by the 5-foot-11, 146 pound rowing instructor at an area girl’s school.
A Sheriff’s department officer told Swanson he had committed felonies by posting photos of his alleged attackers on Facebook, but the parents wouldn’t press charges if he took down the photos.
He told a writer at Slowtwitch.com (From Victim to Villain in a Flash):
“I asked for clarification, he said I had broken laws, and that the whole situation could just disappear if I were to take the posts down from Facebook and agree not to press charges against the kids.”
The way investigators in Marion County are handling the investigation has many in the cycling community as incensed as they are about the incident itself.
Marion County Sheriff Ronnie “Bo” Burnett has told Nooga.com that out-of-staters have called to say they’ll stop coming to the Chattanooga area for recreation.
Burnett has been accused of trying to sweep the incident under the rug, but he told Nooga.com that they just trying to get all the facts. “I don’t want to rush this thing through, take the case to court and then lose in court because we were pushed into doing something.”
Based on the Sheriff’s office earlier recommendation to let the whole thing “disappear,” maybe they need to be “pushed into something.”
A lot of attention is on Chattanooga as the US Cycling Professional Road and Time Trial National Championships are coming to town in May, followed by an Ironman competition in September.
David Cook wrote what’s at stake in his column at the Chattanooga Times Free Press earlier this week
“In this soon-to-be-Ironman town, this Boulder-of-the-East, the way this investigation is handled will represent so much. What will happen if cyclists think the roads — on Raccoon Mountain, of all places — are not safe? What does it mean when someone attacked is now on the defense? Will that influence whether others come forward if — or when — something like this happens again?”
Investigators in Marion County need to take Swanson’s accusations seriously. Harassing a vulnerable cyclist with a car, pickup truck or SUV is not a youthful prank that can be solved with a wink and a nod. It’s a serious crime that should be prosecuted.