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Property damage trial scheduled for artist Fairey

Oralandar Brand-Williams
The Detroit News

Renowned graffiti-artist Shepard Fairey will go to trial Jan. 26 on charges of malicious destruction of buildings in Detroit as well as a railroad bridge.

The jury trial will be before Wayne County Circuit Court Judge Cynthia Gray Hathaway. His trial date was set Friday.

Fairey, 45, was bound over on the charges Sept. 1 before 36th District Court Judge Kenneth King.

Fairey is accused of putting his iconic “Obey Giant” artwork on several buildings on East Jefferson and East Grand Boulevard near Interstate 75.

During the hearing last month, Fairey’s defense attorney, Bradley J. Friedman, said there was no malicious intent in trying to damage or destroy the properties the artist is accused of tagging.

The cost of cleaning and restoring five of the properties, which are privately owned, has been estimated at $20,000.

Two of the properties are the historic Wurlitzer and Vanity Ballroom buildings.

“This is a civil case of putting up artwork without the owner’s permission. This is not malicious destruction of property,” Friedman said during the hearing. “This does not rise to the level of that felony just based on the specifics in the statute. If anything, this is a First Amendment issue. This is a civil issue. This is somebody’s artwork going up on a building. This is not maliciously destroying something.”

City attorney Doug Baker disagreed, saying Fairey was being arrogant by coming into Detroit and tagging the properties.

Baker disputed Fairey’s defense attorney, saying the artist was being malicious because his actions weren’t by accident or a mistake and he knew he didn’t have permission to plaster the “Obey Giant” and the other popular Fairey artwork on the local properties.

“This is all about Shepard Fairey. It’s all about his brand,” Baker said last month. “He comes in, and he boasts about how he’s been arrested before. Now that he’s being held accountable for it, he runs this weaselly kind of argument ... an arrogant argument ... that I can go out and put this up and I’m increasing the (property) value. How arrogant. This is about rules and laws.”

Last spring, Fairey was hired to put up a 184-foot-tall mural on the east side of 1 Campus Martius, formerly known as the Compuware building, owned by downtown developer Dan Gilbert.

Fairey has a Dec. 10 hearing scheduled before his trial begins.

The Associated Press contributed.

bwilliams@detroitnews.com