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Bowie County Jury finds Boogaloo extremist Aaron Swenson guilty of attempted murder of peace officer, violating Texas Hate Crimes Act

by Lynn LaRowe | September 17, 2021 at 2:44 p.m. | Updated September 17, 2021 at 2:45 p.m.
Aaron Swenson

NEW BOSTON, Texas - A loyalist of the anti-government extremist Boogaloo movement who live-streamed as he drove the streets of Bowie County searching for a member of law enforcement to assassinate last year was found guilty Thursday by a Bowie County jury of the attempted capital murder of a peace officer.

The jury took less than an hour to convict Swenson of attempted capital murder of a peace officer. Swenson pleaded guilty Wednesday to charges of felony evading arrest and terroristic threatening. The jury found Thursday that Swenson violated the Texas Hate Crimes Act when he targeted law enforcement. That means he faces an enhanced punishment range on the terroristic threatening charge.

The jury heard testimony late Thursday afternoon in the punishment phase of trial for Aaron Caleb Swenson, 38. Jurors were instructed by 102nd District Judge Jeff Addison to return to the Bowie County courthouse Friday morning to hear closing arguments on the punishment Swenson should receive.

Swenson dressed himself in the typical garb of Boogaloo members including a Hawaiian shirt and a green tactical vest and armed himself with three firearms, a katana sword and more than 150 rounds of ammunition the night of April 11, 2020. With heavy metal music blaring in the background, Swenson used Facebook Live to stream video of himself driving west on Interstate 30 from his home in Hooks, Texas, as he narrated his hunt for a police officer to execute.

Swenson spoke of searching for "flashing lights" and promised he would kill "tyrants" and "red coats." Those terms are used in Boogaloo circles to refer to members of law enforcement.

Texarkana Texas Police Department Officer Jonathan Price testified Thursday that he, like every other on-duty law enforcement officer in Bowie County, was aware of the live feed. Jonathan Price said he was parked along St. Michael's drive in Texarkana, Texas, when he heard Swenson say on the feed that he had "found his prey" and was turning around to find him.

"I realized he was talking about me," Jonathan Price testified. "I put the car in drive and took off. I didn't want to get ambushed by myself."

Price testified that he was unaware that Swenson spent nine minutes searching for him. Swenson's live stream video was mostly a dark screen as he attempted to conceal his location. Brief shots of the highway in front of him and the inside of his Chevrolet truck allowed officers to determine what he was driving and his location.

As a cadre of officers from multiple agencies closed in, Swenson pulled into the parking lot of Sonic in Nash, Texas. Jonathan Price said officers were concerned that confronting Swenson at the busy fast food venue could endanger civilian lives.

"It could become a major catastrophe," Jonathan Price testified.

As officers followed Swenson as he fled from them on Kings Highway, Jonathan Price used I-30 to get ahead of the pursuit and deploy a spike strip on Leary Road which deflated Swenson's left front tire.

"It was not optimal to be in this position. With what he said on the live-stream, I was worried he might start shooting as he drove by my marked unit parked there," Jonathan Price said.

Despite the ruined tire, Swenson continued to evade arrest, eventually coming to a stop on Highway 82 near East 24th Street. He refused to exit his truck for approximately 25 minutes.

Texarkana, Texas, Officer Dustin Johnson testified that officers evacuated civilians living in homes near the site where Swenson came to a stop. Several law enforcement officers testified Wednesday that the standoff was tense as officers feared for their lives should they have to approach the truck and forcibly take Swenson into custody.

Eventually Swenson complied after realizing he was facing a massive law enforcement presence. Texarkana, Texas, Detective Cody Harris testified that the emergency calls from "good samaritans" about the live feed and the tactics used by police likely saved the life of a police officer.

Texarkana, Texas, Sgt. Jeremy Sutton testified Wednesday that he decided to "override" department policy because of the unique threat Swenson posed. Typically only two officers and a supervisor will engage a suspect in pursuit but Sutton was concerned such an approach could lead them into an ambush situation.

Texarkana, Texas, Crime Scene Analyst Spencer Price testified about the two pistols, 12-gauge shotgun, handmade sword and 156 rounds of ammunition found in Swenson's truck.

Swenson's testimony

Swenson testified under questioning from Assistant Public Defender Bart Craytor that he was attempting to commit suicide by cop that night and that he never intended to hurt anyone. When asked about Duncan Lemp, a man associated with Boogaloo who was killed during a confrontation with law enforcement in his Maryland home in March 2020, Swenson described him as having "similar ideas" about "government overreach and law enforcement violence."

In private Facebook messages shown to the jury, Swenson tells a social media contact that the final words a police officer he kills will hear are, "His name was Duncan Lemp."

Swenson claimed his memory of the night of April 11, 2020, was foggy from drug use though he insisted he never intended to harm anyone.

Under cross examination by First Assistant District Attorney Kelley Crisp, Swenson testified that the charges against him are "overblown" and that the police and FBI are attempting to make an example of him. Crisp confronted Swenson with statements he made during jailhouse phone calls with his wife.

"Do you remember telling Arianna (Swenson) that you only had a change of conscience when you saw all the police behind you," Crisp asked. "You didn't change your mind. They stopped you didn't they?"

Crisp asked Swenson if he told his wife he decided not to confront the 27 law enforcement officers surrounding him because he wanted an open casket and was concerned he might not be killed but "severely injured or maimed."

When Crisp asked Swenson about his inflammatory posts on social media Swenson replied, "I say a lot of controversial things."

Crisp also asked Swenson why he needed more than 100 rounds of ammunition to commit suicide.

In closing arguments, Assistant District Attorney Katie Carter pointed out that officers were unaware of all of Swenson's social media threats to police that night, but were all in fear based on Swenson's live feed.

"This was a game to him. Listen to him shouting whoohoo on the live feed," Carter argued. "They were afraid. They had targets on their backs. And they didn't know that in February (2020) he said he'd shoot cops until their bodies stopped twitching."

Crisp argued that Swenson is a "police-hating maniac" who got outsmarted by the officers he hoped to kill.

Crisp told the jury police are there when the citizens they serve need them.

"When you call, they come. They're calling on you today," Crisp argued.

Swenson faces five to 99 years or life in prison on the attempted capital murder charge. The jury is expected to hear closing arguments Friday morning in the sentencing phase. A verdict on punishment is expected Friday.

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