(From For the Record, December 5, 1996:) Two teens convicted of spraying graffiti on Spokane homes attend Juvenile Court’s structured alternative confinement program. A Wednesday article mistakenly said they attend a Spokane middle school.
Spokane County prosecutors are sending this message to graffiti-spraying teenagers: Back off or risk getting hammered in court.
In an unprecedented attack on gang-related graffiti, prosecutors want to put three teens responsible for a North Side painting spree in jail for a year.
They “tagged” - marked with gang-type symbols - more than 50 buildings and garages in an area between North Central High School and NorthTown mall.
The 16-year-old boys each pleaded guilty Monday in Juvenile Court to four counts of first-degree malicious mischief.
One defense attorney criticized the requested one-year sentence as unduly harsh.
“This is like trying to shoot a fly with a buffalo gun,” said John Hunt Whaley, who represents one of the boys.
Juvenile offenders convicted of malicious mischief typically are sentenced to five to 30 days in detention.
Whaley scoffed at the prosecutor’s attempt to portray the young defendants as hardened “gang-bangers.”
He insisted the three were otherwise law-abiding teens who “got a thrill from putting up emblems and their names on walls.”
“It’s a message to young gangs,” Deputy Prosecutor Dave Hearrean said after Monday’s hearing. “This is saying, ‘We’re taking back our neighborhoods.”’
Faced with 12 different criminal charges, the three teenagers avoided a trial by pleading guilty to malicious mischief. They also agreed to share responsibility for $24,000 in restitution - the cost of repainting buildings marred by the graffiti.
Whaley said that part of the deal is fair. “They caused that damage,” he said.
Judge Kathleen O’Connor will sentence the teens Dec. 16. Many of the vandalized property owners are expected to speak at that hearing.
Hearrean said he’s urging a sentence that exceeds sentencing guidelines because “these guys caused an exorbitant amount of physical damage” and “inflicted a lot of fear on the victims.”
One of the graffiti vandals attends Shadle Park High School. The other two are enrolled at Sacajawea Middle School’s alternative program. Police say they formed a gang called NST New School Taggers - and adopted the names Bigg Dogg, Jester and Smokey to identify themselves in their graffiti.
In late October, after police arrested five teens for the graffiti spree, Spokane County Prosecuting Attorney Jim Sweetser decided to use the case as a prime attack on taggers and gang activity.
Hearrean said gangs tag property to define their turf, antagonize other gangs and intimidate residents.
Two of the teens convicted Monday have a prior juvenile record for disorderly conduct and other minor crimes, records show.
The teen who signed his graffiti by the tag “Jester” has only two prior misdemeanor convictions, said Whaley. Under sentencing guidelines, he faces a maximum of 30 days in detention for malicious mischief.
“But the prosecutors are trying to hit him with 10-times harder a sentence,” Whaley complained.
The mother of one of the convicted teens Monday accused prosecutors of making her son a scapegoat for an emotional community problem.
“Our son did something he shouldn’t have. But he’s a follower,” she said.
It’s absurd to call the youths a gang, she added. “They’ve known each other since kindergarten. What they’re doing is getting into trouble, the way kids do.”
But Hearrean said the boys are “budding” gang members. National experts, he said, suggest there are three types of young gang members: full-fledged criminals, mid-level hangers-on and “wanna-bes,” who start with tagging and gradually get involved in more serious crimes.
“These guys were at the starting point, and we feel they were already involved in some other things, like vehicle prowling or breaking into cars,” Hearrean said.