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Judge drops charges against graffiti artist Fairey

Oralandar Brand-Williams
The Detroit News

Criminal charges have been dismissed against internationally-known graffiti artist Shepard Fairey, who was charged with defacing numerous buildings in Detroit.

The office of Wayne Circuit Judge Cynthia Gray Hathaway confirmed Wednesday she granted on June 21 a motion by Fairey’s attorney, Bradley J. Friedman, to drop the charges.

Fairey was facing trial on allegations he tagged several private and publicly owned properties. If found guilty he could have been sentenced to 10 years in prison. He was charged with malicious destruction of a building $20,000 or more, malicious destruction of bridge and railroads/locks.

City attorney Doug Baker told The Associated Press Hathaway cited a number of reasons for the dismissal. Baker said the city plans to appeal the ruling.

Neither Hathaway nor Friedman could be reached immediately for comment.

At his preliminary hearing last September, 36th Judge Kenneth King told Fairey “you may have a lot of talent, but you can’t go around doing things without permission.” King also told Fairey that a 20-minute video shown in court of the artist discussing his art and his techniques was “an admission” in the case.

Friedman said there was no malicious intent in trying to damage or destroy the properties his client was accused of tagging.

The cost of cleaning and restoring five of the properties, which are privately owned, was estimated at $20,000. The cost of cleaning and restoring two other properties, the historic Wurlitzer and Vanity Ballroom building, were not included in the estimates.

“This is a civil case of putting up artwork without the owner’s permission. This is not malicious destruction of property,” Friedman said during Fairey’s preliminary last year. “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.”

At the earlier hearing, City attorney Doug Baker criticized Fairey as being arrogant by coming into the city of Detroit and tagging local properties without permission.

“This is all about Shepard Fairey. It’s all about his brand” Baker said. “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.”

The properties Fairey was accused of tagging are mostly on East Jefferson. The city of Detroit owns two of the properties at East Grand Boulevard and Interstate 75 in addition to one on Woodward at Endicott.

The artist 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, 45, appeared stunned by the charges saying after his hearing: “I love Detroit. ... There’s a lot of great things happening in the art community here.”

bwilliams@detroitnews.com

(313) 222-2027