When David Swanson walked out of the federal courthouse in Fresno a free man earlier this month, he wanted to thank the jury that acquitted him.
"I waited 45 minutes, but they never came out," the 53-year-old former Stanislaus County Superior Court bailiff said. "They must have taken them out another door. I did talk to a court reporter, who congratulated me and said, 'They made the right decision on you.' That made me feel good."
It was the first time in nearly three years Swanson could say that. After being charged with conspiracy to obstruct justice and making false statements to investigators in the Road Dog racketeering case, his life turned into sheer hell.
To this day, he still doesn't understand why he was dragged into the investigation of Denair motorcycle shop owner Bob Holloway and a dozen others.
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"I didn't do anything wrong," Swanson said. "It was, 'I'm telling you, you've got the wrong guy.' "
His acquittal, along with that of former Stanislaus County sheriff's Capt. Raul DeLeon on similar charges, left many people wondering what the multiagency team of investigators and the federal prosecutors were thinking.
The fact remains that the feds get convictions in about 99 percent of their cases. But Road Dog drew accusations of overzealous charging, an opinion that seems borne out by the results.
In Swanson's and DeLeon's cases, the prosecutors got creamed. A juror in the DeLeon trial later told The Bee that DeLeon had been "railroaded."
The convictions the government did get, mostly through plea deals for lesser charges and minimal prison time, hardly mirrored the array of charges unveiled during a high-profile news conference in 2008.
Back then, you'd have thought they had busted the Colombian drug cartel, not a motorcycle shop in Denair. The headline over my column about the case read, "When the feds file charges, they mean it."
But when they're wrong, they're really wrong and innocent people get hurt. Reputations, careers and even lives are ruined. Suspects become victims. Count Swanson and DeLeon among them.
After being indicted, Swanson and DeLeon both retired. DeLeon recently moved out of the valley.
It was worse for Swanson. After the indictment, he faced federal charges and possible prison time.
"I had high blood pressure," Swanson said. "My home life was miserable with my health, my wife's health and my son's health."
The 24-year-old has severe medical problems and needed Dad's support.
"Even now that it's over with," Swanson continued, "it doesn't feel like it's over. I lie awake at night thinking about the things they were saying about me in court. It's unbelievable."
At one point, Swanson said, the prosecution offered him a chance to plead to one felony count with no jail time or even probation.
"I seriously considered doing it," Swanson said. "I didn't want to take the chance of not being there for my son. But (his attorney, Robert Forkner) told me it was a bad idea. I hadn't done anything wrong."
Swanson went to trial alongside private investigator Gary Ermoian and Steven Johnson, a former prison guard from San Joaquin County. The two were convicted and face sentencing next month.
Swanson was acquitted. He went home to resume his shattered existence, begin rebuilding his life, help his son get better and stabilize his finances. If not for the inheritance he received from his late mother's estate, Swanson said, he would have had to file personal bankruptcy.
He dealt with the double-whammy of paying for his defense and his son's medical treatment, which costs him $2,000 a week at an out-of-state hospital. He also had to help his son file bankruptcy.
Thus, a man who has many friends inside and outside of courthouse circles saw his life turned upside down by the same justice system he was a part of for more than two decades.
His acquittal created an intriguing moment Monday back in Modesto. When Forkner, Swanson's attorney, walked back into the Stanislaus County Courthouse after a vacation, "He got a conquering hero's welcome," one sheriff's deputy told me.
Intriguing, because although they are always cordial to one another, the attorneys who often defend the worst of the worst and the badge-wearing types who secure the worst of the worst are clearly on opposite ends of the legal spectrum. Not this time, though.
Swanson's friends and courthouse co-workers believed he was innocent all along, the deputy told me. Conspiring to impede the investigation into Holloway's doings? No chance, he said.
"We all knew he hadn't had anything to do with that."
Jeff Jardine's column appears Sundays, Tuesdays and Thursdays in Local News. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 578-2383.