Graffiti-related arrests on the rise

SAN MARCOS — Another graffiti vandal was sent to jail April 1, following recent arrests of taggers in Vista and Oceanside, and the man received a 30-day sentence after he pleaded guilty to vandalism charges that caused thousands of dollars in damages.
Eric Ricardo Flores, 19, was arrested and accused of vandalism acts that caused nearly $21,000 of damages throughout San Marcos, authorities said.
He was ordered to pay $18,200 in restitution by San Diego Superior Court Judge Marshall Hockett, and according to reports he may be ordered to repay damages caused to Oceanside and Vista.
Flores was arrested on suspicion of 72 counts of misdemeanor vandalism and three counts of felony vandalism, according to San Diego County sheriff’s Sgt. Dave Schaller.
Flores is currently the fourth man to be arrested in recent weeks for a spree of tagging incidents in North County.
“It’ll send a message to these kids that think it’s just art,” Schaller said. “Some young people look at it as an artistic expression, and don’t put monetary values on things they’re defacing.”
He said that historically, aside from gang graffiti, taggers are not prone to significant criminal activity.
Schaller said that a tagger may be a good kid who is just a frustrated artist.
In Flores’ case, he was doing what is known as slap-tags, he said.
“They put their tag on a sticker. They slap it all over the place,” he said.
One form of slap tagging used by taggers is the use of the free priority mail labels from the post office that they use to write their moniker on and then adhere to a location, such as a stop sign, Schaller said.
The labels have a strong adhesive, and when combined with heat are hard to remove, he said.
City workers have to take the time to peel them off if the tags are stuck to city property.
But in Flores’ case, the slap tagging was just a minor part of what the suspect had been doing, Schaller said.
The city of Vista boasts a reward of up to $1,000 for information that leads to the conviction of someone involved in graffiti activities.
But it also requires that victims of vandalism of personal property clean up or cover over graffiti within one week of the crime, according to the city.
Vista staff will clean up graffiti on city property, but personal property graffiti removal is the responsibility of the resident, according to the city.
They give residents seven days to clean up the graffiti before the city takes action, according to the city’s graffiti hotline message.
On March 23, Vista’s most recent graffiti vandal was arrested at his home and originally charged with 77 counts of misdemeanor vandalism.
Alfosno Castro Jr., of Vista, pleaded guilty to a dozen misdemeanor vandalism charges at a hearing March 30, and was immediately sentenced to 45 days in jail for causing in excess of $34,000 in graffiti damage to the cities of Vista, Oceanside and San Marcos.
Originally, Castro was charged with 80 counts of vandalism, but he ultimately ended up being charged with 77 counts of misdemeanor vandalism.
“Vandalism over a certain amount can be charged as a felony,” said Deputy District Attorney Matthew Greco, the prosecutor on Castro’s case.
The department looks at the total cost of damage per charge and calculates it. If the cost is very close to that of a felony, which is anything totaling $400 or more, then it is charged as a felony, he said.
“The DA’s office has the discretion to charge as felonies or misdemeanors,” he said.
If the suspect admits to the crime(s), the DA’s office may be willing to reduce the felony charges to a misdemeanor, he said.
“One issue is how do you calculate what the city is paid back?” Greco said.
There is a hearing set for May 30 to determine how much restitution Castro owes the city of Vista.
The other recent arrestees include Luis Maganda, 18, who was arrested March 15 and pleaded guilty to graffiti vandalism charges that caused more than $15,000 in damages in San Marcos.
Maganda is expected to be sentenced to 180 days in custody.
On March 8, probationer Oscar Fernandez, 26, was arrested at his Oceanside workplace for suspicion of 21 counts of vandalism that resulted in about $38,000 in damage.
Common graffiti targets include street signs, fences, utility poles, junction boxes, city trash bins and block walls.
If a suspect is caught performing an act of graffiti vandalism, residents are requested to call their local police or sheriff’s station.
Otherwise, North County residents are encouraged to call the graffiti hotline for their city to report any damages.

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