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VENTURA COUNTY NEWS

2-Week Investigation Leads to Arrests of 7 Graffiti Suspects

November 29, 2000|HOLLY J. WOLCOTT | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

OXNARD — Seven members of three local graffiti groups have been arrested in connection with a rash of vandalism incidents at several businesses, homes and a school since May, police said Tuesday.

The arrests, which included two Hueneme High School students, were the result of a two-week investigation by the Oxnard Police Department's two-man graffiti unit, which acted on several anonymous tips from residents.

"I would like to think it would make a big impact, but when you're dealing with several tagging crews and perhaps several gangs that do their own graffiti, it's not as big of a dent as I would like," said Det. Lee Barnard.

The arrests came in three waves, with the first occurring Nov. 15 when three men were nabbed while allegedly spraying their crew monikers all over the walls and roof of a new cafeteria restaurant in the 1300 block of Channel Islands Boulevard.

Bernard Antonio Huerta, 19, and Julio Vega and Salvador DeLa Cruz, both 18, suspected of felony vandalism and conspiracy to commit vandalism, have been released from jail pending their next court appearance. But detectives said they are members of a 5-year-old crew that has about 20 members.

A search of the homes where Huerta and DeLa Cruz live turned up photo albums and pieces of paper with monikers that matched graffiti at the restaurant, Barnard said.

In the most serious case, two 17-year-old Hueneme High boys alleged to be members of a new, small tagging crew were arrested on campus Monday on suspicion of participating in 19 graffiti incidents.

The targets have included walls, housing tracts and Emilie Ritchen School in the 2000 block of Cabrillo Way, police said.

"A lot of this was very visible to the public," Barnard said. "They admitted to most of it." Both boys were given citations to appear in court and released to the custody of their parents.

Meanwhile, patrol officers last Thursday arrested a 17-year-old boy and his friend, 19-year-old Daniel Robledo, as they allegedly vandalized a cement drainage ditch in the 500 block of Van Ness Avenue. Both suspects, alleged members of a new 20-person tagging crew, were cited and released.

Barnard said the graffiti unit plans to keep making arrests, encouraging residents to immediately call in anonymous tips when they see tagging occurring. Public education about the penalties for such crimes will continue, he said.

Under state law, a person can be charged with a felony if the vandalism causes more than $400 in damage. Old laws had that limit at $5,000, he said.

In addition, a judge can suspend for one year the driver's license of anyone convicted of certain vandalism charges, Barnard said, even if the defendant isn't old enough to drive yet.

"If you're 13, they can hold your license for a year if you come to get it," he said.

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