The more I think about what happened today, the more I realize that not a whole lot actually happened. But there were some interesting bits that came up.
It had been my first time in the new courthouse that has just opened up in the last few weeks. Have to say, it was a lot less claustrophobic than the old one was. Courtroom was definitely built with the expectation that people don’t care about what happens in our justice system. Where courtrooms before could hold dozens of people in the gallery, this one had four benches, maybe fifteen or so people comfortably. With COVID restrictions, five people was starting to push the limit. The view from the 17th floor was amazing though, looking out over Naito Parkway, and the waterfront, and the bridges, it actually reminded me a bit of the first time I ever visited this town, seeing its beauty when it was lit up at night, and I knew eventually I wanted to move here.
This was the second hearing that I’d sat in today, the first one simply because I was at the right place at the right time, so I had an idea of what kind of temperament the judge had. He struck me as someone who seemed very fair minded, letting both sides explain themselves, asking clarifying questions, and overall not acting like someone who knew better than us (which is something I’ve seen from other judges in the past).
But things got a little weird when Mr. Swinney’s case started. As I’d mentioned before in Mastodon messages, his attorney looked a lot like what I’d expect a lawyer supporting a ‘back the blue’ type client to look like: nice suit, not much hair, and of course, he had a face covering that looked like the exact same thin blue line type flag covering that I’ve seen on a number of RRT officers while recording night time protests.
When Mr. Swinney was brought in, he definitely didn’t look like I expected him to. I’d never met the man before today, but looking at his mugshot and pictures of him at protests, it looked like his hair was even shorter, and it took me a minute to realize that his face covering almost perfectly contained his beard. He did have two deputies providing security, where the case I watched before only had one. I don’t know if it was because of the nature of the charges, or if something had happened in jail to warrant extra attention.
His attorney, Mr. Wolfe, immediately started questioning the validity of the case in the first case, claiming that he didn’t apply politics when choosing his clients (and having looked at the cases he’s recently working on, it does seem a variety), but that the DA’s office was engaging in a partisan tactic in charging his client. Screenshots of messages from Parler were claimed to be taken out of context, such as a statement that it only takes two seconds to load an AR-15 was diffused by a later sentence in the post that ‘we have to play by their rules’ (he neglected that later in the post Mr. Swinney states ‘if the mob gets violent however, and the police arent [sic] there to control them, we will handle it.’ and the threatening tone of ‘if you’re smart, you’ll leave us alone’), claims that his actions were justified from another post stating, among other things ‘they are throwing explosives at me’, and other claims. He tried to argue that in the Close Street Supervision report and follow-up, neither of the victims in this case stated that they feared for their physical safety from him, and that not only were his words taken out of context, but alluded that words alone do not have the ability to cause harm. He said that Alan Swinney is not ‘some charismatic leader’, which actually made me wince in sympathy for Swinney. I think most people like to think they have the charisma to sway at least some people to their way of thinking.
The deputy DA made his responses, reasserting the claim that not only were the charges themselves significant, but that his online presence makes him a ‘lightning rod’ for action from like minded people. The judge questioned this wording, and the DA agreed that it was an imprecise word, that being a provocateur was a more accurate legal term. And they may have a point. While I’ve only heard about him being downtown a few times, he’s definitely galvanized the support of a number of people to his cause, even stating online ‘my plan is to hit these little towns [like neighboring Sandy] and recruit, then we all go into Portland together’
The DA also expressed concerns about Mr. Swinney’s willingness to abide by supervision restrictions if he was released, using two quotes from the same Parler post (after apologizing for his crass language): ‘I don’t think I’m going to let them govern me anymore. Take the charges and stick em up your ass.’ and ‘I say again… All you lefty judges, DAs, city council, and mayors can get bent.’
Mr. Wolfe, on his rebuttal, again tried to point out that ‘They’re just words’, which earned him a raised eyebrow from Judge Ryan as he asked “Just … words?” It felt to me like the judge realized that while we have broad freedom of expression in the US, there are some times where certain things may be inappropriate or actually illegal. A number of the posts, if I was an active protester at the protests that Mr. Swinney has been active at, would make me feel like they’re directed at me, and are meant as threats of violence, justified or not.
Both attorneys were asked if they they had evidence or witnesses that they wanted to bring in for testimony, and they both declined, and honestly, it did both sides a disservice. Mr. Swinney on the stand, something his lawyer had floated as a possibility, could have given him a chance to turn the narrative. Probably not enough to get a pre-trial release today, but would have let him get statements on the record. On the DAs part, they kept trying to make arguments that didn’t have evidence in the record to support it, which didn’t seem to make the judge very happy. It’s entirely possible, as Mr. Wolfe had pointed out that the state’s memo had been provided to him late in the day Friday, and he hadn’t had the chance to properly respond to it, that he could have done more with more time.
There were only a few other people in the courtroom with me, one that I believe was an out of uniform law enforcement officer (between him having a holster, if not a firearm, in the courtroom, as well as the DA talking to him in a brief recess), someone that I know is close to the defendant, and another gentleman that I know nothing about. None of them spoke publicly in the hearing.
The judge took a few minutes to deliberate before denying the motion for release, which from what I’ve seen on Parler since, didn’t help the mood of his supporters. Comments have been made online about another hearing in the next week or so about a request to reduce bail, currently set at $534k, but at the time of writing, nothing is showing in the docket yet.