That was bad news for Gerhardt and Swanson. But particularly for Swanson. Although this was the first time he'd been charged with a violent crime, he had four prior felony convictions from his early twenties, all of them drug-related. And he'd picked up this new charge in Greenwood Village, which happens to be located in Arapahoe County, where prosecutors routinely file sentence-enhancing habitual-criminal charges on every defendant who's eligible — meaning anyone who has two or three prior felony convictions.

In most of the state, prosecutors use considerable discretion in handing out the "Big Bitch," which can send away a three-time loser for four times the maximum sentence usually incurred by a particular offense. It's generally reserved for people who commit multiple violent crimes or for career crooks, who may be getting caught only a few times while committing dozens of burglaries or robberies. But 18th Judicial District Attorney Carol Chambers, whose purview includes Arapahoe, Douglas, Elbert and Lincoln counties, has been pursuing habitual charges at a rate that's exponentially greater than what's doled out by other DAs. As Westword reported last fall, her office filed 623 such cases in an eighteen-month period in 2010 and 2011, while Denver prosecutors filed 25 habitual cases in that same period ("Welcome to Arapahell," November 22, 2011).

It didn't matter that Swanson's previous crimes weren't violent ones. It didn't matter that, after a youth scarred by meth addiction and family turmoil, he hadn't picked up any new charges for nearly a decade. It didn't matter whether he started the fight, jumped in to aid a friend, or did or didn't strike or kick anyone. If it could be proven that he was involved in the assault on Christensen, a judge told him, he was looking at a possible sentence of 48 years in prison.

Eric Swanson and Jeramie Gerhardt (pictured) were originally charged with a municipal violation at the 2010 Mayhem Festival; the next day the case was refiled as a felony assault.
Eric Swanson and Jeramie Gerhardt (pictured) were originally charged with a municipal violation at the 2010 Mayhem Festival; the next day the case was refiled as a felony assault.
Video taken at the concert shows James Christensen moments after he was attacked.
Video taken at the concert shows James Christensen moments after he was attacked.

Swanson was speechless. "It was like getting socked in the gut," he says.

Later, after prosecutors calculated all the aggravating factors and exceptional circumstances involved in the Mayhem incident, the figure changed. What he was really facing, they told him, was a sentence of 64 years.

*****

Since its 2008 launch, the Rockstar Energy Drink Mayhem Festival has developed a reputation, deserved or not, as the bad boy of the national summer-tour circuit. Mayhem tends to draw a high level of security and liability premiums wherever it goes, on the theory that — as the name implies — the festival offers the kind of music that draws the kind of people who are eager to test their mettle, in the pits and elsewhere.

"We have more officers working at Mayhem than any other concert," says Greenwood Village Police Department spokeswoman Crystal Dean. "It's the nature of a hard-rock concert and the younger, rowdier crowd that it attracts."

Die-hard metalheads insist that the rep for violence is just so much hype and slurs, like the danger label often slapped on hip-hop shows — or, years ago, on punk. You can find troublemakers at a Justin Bieber concert, they point out. Not every metal band encourages moshing, and there's no shortage of people who feel comfortable bringing the kiddies to Mayhem, believing that a prehistoric thrash lineup of Slayer, Anthrax and Motörhead (this year's headliners) makes for a perfect family outing.

Others, though, come looking for blood. A growing subgenre of videos posted on YouTube consists of outbursts of spontaneous moshing and crowd fights at Mayhem concerts, recorded by aspiring Scorseses — and then commented on by other attendees. "Look at all the peeps that get broke, haha," one viewer responded to scenes of a circle pit at the Denver concert Swanson attended.

"Security had no chance of stopping the pits this time," boasted a veteran of the 2010 stop in St. Louis. "It was OUTTA CONTROL AND AWESOME!!"

When Eric Swanson's attorney, Tom Henry, began looking into his case, he was surprised to discover not one but three brief YouTube clips that appeared to have some bearing on the matter. Two captured critical seconds leading up to the assault from different angles, as if the combatants had their own personal videographers following them around. The third presented a glimpse of the immediate aftermath. None of them caught the actual attack on Christensen. But it was something else missing from the footage that most impressed Henry, a former federal prosecutor.

"Eric has a co-defendant who's all over these videos," he notes. "But there's not one video that has Eric in it."

Swanson had attended the concert with his then-wife, Tamra, and four other friends; Jeramie Gerhardt and his brother, Chad Buckner, each brought their own significant others. Two of the videos focus on the activities of Gerhardt and Buckner. In one, Gerhardt strolls past the camera, sullenly flipping the bird. Then Buckner is seen shoving another concert-goer, peeling off his shirt and acting aggressively. A few seconds later, a bare-chested Buckner plunges, swinging and pummeling, into a group of men, taking down a large, wispy-bearded fellow until he's pulled off him by several other meaty types. Then Buckner seeks out his adversary and embraces him, apparently making peace.

In the second video, there's a clearer look at what's going on nearby as Buckner makes his charge. A man in a white shirt has Gerhardt in a headlock, while others seem to be scolding him about his behavior. Gerhardt drops to the ground, dizzy or unconscious, around the time Buckner charges in, apparently coming to his aid. Then Gerhardt is up again, pulling people off Buckner. He gets into a momentary altercation with a short, thickset man in an Ozzy Osbourne shirt whom Buckner had been charging a few seconds earlier, then shakes hands with the man.

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15 comments
Stephen Roth
Stephen Roth

Thanks for airing her side of the story. It isn't entirely true, but it is her side of the story.

No name
No name

The motto for Carol Chambers & her posse of DA's should be: Arapahoe County- don't come here lookin' for justice cuz all you're gonna find is 'Just Us'.They won't even kiss you before they screw you.

Guest
Guest

Re-read the story.... Mr Swanson, (the guy being 'Bitched') is not the man who assaulted the victim. The men who were involved in the assault have no problem letting a former friend take the fall for their actions. Mr Gerhardt accepted a plea bargain of 90 days in jail, probation & will have to perform community service. Mr Swanson on the other hand-is looking at 64 years in prison for an assault that his friends committed. Mr Swanson didn't hurt anyone-

calhounp
calhounp

i'd like to publish some of these comments in our print letters to the editor section, ideally with your full name/town. Let me know if that's okay at patricia.calhoun@westword.com

Alice Hoffman
Alice Hoffman

Yea well we havent seen anything yet for Los Angeles but there is a big gap in Dates after the San Jose show.. so It may be Neil will annouce Dates for Los Angeles soon.Neil Diamond tickets

Guest
Guest

If Arapahoe, Douglas, Elbert and Lincoln counties want to keep Chambers as a D.A., isn't there some way those counties can be required to pick up the tab for keeping all these "bitched" offenders in prison all those years?

Amy Taylor
Amy Taylor

I was never the biggest Tim Mcgraw fan but I wouldn't mind seeing his concert in Atlanta. That said, tickets here starts at $57 (before the inconvenience charges) so I'll be passing on that one.Tim Mcgraw tickets

Bob
Bob

That is messed up. I actually feel bad for the dude with the swastica.

Never thought that would happen.

Youknow
Youknow

So he has been arrested again and again, " habitually " one might say but for some reason this time it is supposed to be different? What do we have to wait for this guy to really hurt someone, oh wait, HE DID. Sounds to me like one of the few times the law might work.

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who cares
who cares

Stupid music attracts stupid people !!!

mat
mat

That swnson weirdo is guilty. Go to jail. And the gerhert guy.. go lift some weight lmao. Can't even fight your own fight

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