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5 Held in Vandalism of Freeway Murals

CHP says the suspects are leaders of tagging crews that compete to do the most damage.

November 16, 2002|Kenneth Reich | Times Staff Writer

Five people suspected of doing more than $1 million in graffiti damage, mainly to murals along Los Angeles freeways, have been arrested on suspicion of felony vandalism, the CHP said Friday.

Bryan Acee, who is in charge of the California Highway Patrol's graffiti task force, said the four men and one woman, all in their 20s, are leaders of so-called "krews" that have been competing with one another to see which could do the most damage to specific murals, such as one at 4th Street on the Harbor Freeway in downtown Los Angeles.

Some also are believed to be gang members, he said.

As the six-week investigation proceeded, "we learned more and more," Acee said. "The contests are to see which 'krew,' or crew, can do the most damage to a specific mural in a limited time. The loser then either has to go on to another mural or join the winners. Mostly, it's older people, well beyond teenagers, who are the key participants."

Acee said that during the investigation, aided by the Los Angeles and Redondo Beach police departments and the Los Angeles County Probation Department, the taggers told him they got the paint from a European paint company for free. In exchange, Acee said, the taggers agreed to identify the company on the defaced murals. He would not name the company, but said the paint was sold through the Internet and has indelible characteristics that make it difficult to remove.

Acee also would not identify the suspects, pending more arrests. Two of them, he said, surrendered at the CHP office "so that we would not go to their homes."

CHP Officer Jeff Loftin said several murals had been damaged along the Harbor and Hollywood freeways. Community parks along the Harbor Freeway also were struck. The investigation included damage to private property in Redondo Beach. Evidence taken during the arrests included etching tools, aerosol paint cans, ammunition and narcotics.

A private group, the Mural Conservancy of Los Angeles, has been helping to restore the damaged murals. Conservancy President Bill Lasarow said it also has been developing techniques to better protect them.

The state recently allocated $1.7 million to Caltrans' Los Angeles district to restore and protect murals, Lasarow said.

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