Police issue warrant for famous L.A. graffiti artist

George Hunter and Oralandar Brand-Williams
The Detroit News

Detroit — Local authorities have issued an arrest warrant for a well-known California graffiti artist whose work has recently been installed at one of the city’s downtown landmarks.

A warrant seeking to charge Shepard Fairey with malicious destruction of property over $1,000 and less than $20,000 has been drawn up, a Detroit police official said Wednesday.

Sgt. Rebecca McKay of the police department’s general assignment unit, which handles quality of life issues, said a notice will be mailed out to Fairey and his attorney, when it is determined who it is, regarding the case.

McKay said there are 14 different locations in the city where 45-year-old Fairey, who is based in Los Angeles, posted his stickers.

“We have eight complainants who wanted to prosecute,” McKay said Wednesday. “They did not give permission to have graffiti put on their property.”

McKay said two of the 14 properties are city owned. One is a wall on Woodward; the other is an underpass at East Grand Boulevard at Interstate 75.

“That is more difficult to remove,” McKay said.

Fairey was recently commissioned to paint a 184-foot-tall mural on the east side of the Compuware building, owned by Detroit developer Dan Gilbert, on Woodward near Campus Martius as well as a large billboard on East Grand River, a water tower bearing the artist’s trademark “Obey” logo and several other temporary murals.

If convicted, punishment for the offense carries up to five years in prison and a fine three times the monetary damage of the crime.

So far this year, McKay said, her unit has arrested 13 people — one man twice — in connection with graffiti complaints. There are two cases, she said, where warrants have been issued including one against Fairey. In both those cases, the individuals have not been arrested.

“We’re extremely serious about this,” McKay said. “Anytime anyone is caught we aggressively pursue charges. Eighty percent of the people we catch they own up to it — they’re proud of it.”

The city attorney is handling the cases in court instead of the Wayne County Prosecutor’s Office.

In response to critics who say police should focus on more serious crimes, McKay said: “If we ignore graffiti it sends the message to people we don’t care, and it projects the image that an area covered in graffiti is not safe.”

Fairey’s case is the most recent high-profile case involving taggers. Three Grosse Pointe Woods teens were arrested and charged last year after Gilbert appealed to the public to help identify individuals responsible for defacing some downtown buildings. The girls entered a plea deal to serve 60 hours of community service, including removing graffiti from buildings, and $2,000 in restitution.

Earlier this year, two 19-year-olds — Marcelus Gray of Lathrup Village and Taylor Daramy of Southfield — were charged with vandalism after allegedly painting an image in February on a youth center building depicting an angel pointing a gun at a police officer.

The city of Detroit is cracking down on graffiti although its efforts have hit some snags, including city inspectors accidentally issuing tickets to businesses that had legally commissioned artists to paint murals on their buildings. Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan’s spokesman, John Roach, said those tickets were rescinded.

Duggan has long had a get-tough policy for graffiti. In 2003, while Wayne County prosecutor, he charged two out-of-towners with malicious destruction of property, and forced the two men, from Wisconsin and California, to give the identities of other graffiti artists using investigative subpoenas.

Both men pleaded guilty and spent 60 days in the Wayne County Jail.


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