Raccoon Mountain cyclist files complaint in harassment incident

UTC graduate student T.J. Zinke rides his bike around the Raccoon Mountain reservoir doing laps late Monday morning.
photo Anders Swanson is seen in this file photo.

Anders Swanson, the cyclist who says he was nearly run off the road and pepper sprayed on Raccoon Mountain by Hamilton County, Tenn., teenagers last January, is still waiting for closure.

The criminal proceedings have concluded, but Swanson's attorney, Whitney Standefer, with Massey & Associates PC, said it feels like the incident was swept under the rug.

"He had an internal struggle on whether to file [a lawsuit] for a long time," Standefer said.

Last month, Swanson and his wife, Cathi, decided to file a complaint in the Circuit Court of Hamilton County against the three teens, their parents, Marion County, the local sheriff's department and Sgt. Tim Prince.

Standefer, speaking on Swanson's behalf, said, "He realized that he needed to go that extra step, because honestly he wants it to be recognized that something went wrong and that people are taking accountability for it."

The incident gained international notoriety due to the perceived clash of cultures between cyclists and the residents of the area's rural counties in which cyclists often conduct their training.

Raccoon Mountain was a favorite spot of Swanson's, and one where he frequently trained, but on Jan. 11, 2014, he was forced to call 911 after the teens pulled what appeared to be a water gun from inside an SUV and sprayed a solid stream of pepper spray into his face, a news release from Standefer states.

After the incident, Chattanooga police visited the homes of Taylor Sewell and Ryan Dinger, and the two boys confessed in front of their parents to harassing Swanson, according to the complaint. The boys identified Taylor Sewell as the driver of the SUV that nearly ran Swanson off the road.

But criticism mounted when Marion County's investigating officer, Tim Prince, took over.

Prince, despite having access to the boys' confessions made in front of their parents to Chattanooga police officers, instead told Swanson that it was he who was in trouble, and that the parents of the teens would be willing to drop three felony charges against Swanson -- charges Swanson maintains never existed -- if he dropped his charges against the teens. Swanson did not take the deal, instead publicizing the offer on Facebook.

After a sustained public outcry, Marion County charged Sewell with delinquent assault and violating Tennessee's three-foot law, and charged Dinger with making an unreasonably harsh sound. Sewell was not charged. The charges against Swanson -- in which the teens' parents claimed he instigated the assault by reaching inside the boys' vehicle -- were later dropped and expunged.

Sewell and Dinger were convicted and sentenced to minor probation and community service hours, according to the complaint made by Swanson.

Marion County Sheriff Ronnie "Bo" Burnett declined to comment Friday evening about the incident and lawsuit.

Standefer said Swanson and his wife "hope this suit will mean better protection under the law for the whole outdoor community."

News report from the incident:

Staff writer Ellis Smith contributed to this story.

Contact staff writer Kendi Anderson at kendi.anderson@timesfreepress.com or at 423-757-6592.