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Skinhead attack in San Francisco is second alleged incident, may point toward trend

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A month after District Attorney George Gascón said there had been a rise in white supremacist activity in San Francisco, prosecutors are weighing filing hate-crime charges in a second alleged skinhead attack.

The case involves the knifing of a homeless black man in the Western Addition last July 25. Prosecutors say the 56-year-old man asked a white man for change near Fillmore and O’Farrell streets.

After a brief argument, the white man pulled a switchblade and slashed the homeless man across the face, leaving a gaping wound that stretched from his lip to his cheek, according to prosecutors. The man lost over a liter of blood and nearly died, investigators quoted a hospital nurse as saying.

Later that night, police arrested 40-year-old Matthew Swan at an apartment on South Van Ness Avenue. Inside Swan’s apartment police found a silver knife similar to the one a witness described, emblazoned with a swastika, police said.

The prosecutor on the case, Assistant District Attorney Victor Hwang, says the attack was motivated by hate and that Swan has an affiliation with skinheads.

“We’re concerned that it appears that there are multiple skinhead cases surfacing,” Hwang said Wednesday.

Hwang is also prosecuting three other men who he says have ties to skinhead groups for a Nov. 10 alleged assault on two Mexican nationals, who were punched and kicked outside a Tenderloin bar, leaving one of the men unconscious. Hwang said multiple witnesses reported hearing a group of three to five white men yell “white power” as they attacked the victims. He added that “physical evidence” pointing to associations with hate groups was later recovered from the suspects’ apartments.

Hwang said another case in late December involved an Asian man who was beaten in the Marina by four white men with shaved heads, who were also yelling “white power.” No arrests have been made in that case, he said.

At Swan’s  hearing in San Francisco Superior Court Tuesday, Judge Susan Breall ruled there was sufficient evidence to hold Swan for trial on charges of assault with a deadly weapon and mayhem.

Hwang told the judge that he was considering adding hate-crimes allegations to the case, but Breall disagreed there was evidence of a hate crime. She also refused to allow evidence at Tuesday’s hearing of Swan’s 2008 arrest for vandalism, in which he allegedly defaced a Union Square wall with a swastika and other Nazi imagery.

Following the hearing, Hwang said he was still weighing whether to add hate-crimes allegations, noting Swan was still facing substantial prison time for the current charges.

“I do not believe that there is any basis that a hate-crime occurred, and the judge appears to agree,” Swan’s attorney, Deputy Public Defender Christopher Hite said.

aburack@sfexaminer.com

Recent alleged skinhead attacks

July 25, 2010: 56-year-old African-American man slashed with a knife in the Western Addition
Nov. 10, 2010: Two Mexican nationals punched and kicked by men yelling “white power” outside the Nite Cap bar in the Tenderloin
December 2010: Asian man beaten by men yelling “white power” in the Marina

Source: District Attorney’s Office