After following months of leads and even browsing MySpace.com, Guttenberg police recently arrested four graffiti artists who allegedly painted “tags” on freight trains and walls from Hudson County to the Jersey shore.
The four men admitted to many of the tags and had interesting explanations for their actions, according to the police reports.
The Guttenberg Police Investigative Unit recently conducted a six-month investigation into taggers who used names like “Nois,” “Turk,” “Aspect” and “Wetz,” said Lt. Joel Magenheimer.
Investigator Michael Meawad arrested four individuals, all of whom live in the county. Some admitted to tagging Guttenberg locations, as well as those in North Bergen, Union City, West New York, Weehawken, Hoboken, New Brunswick, East Brunswick, Fairview, and even Asbury Park.
“Exactly how many counts we have here is undetermined at this point,” said Magenheimer. “I expect this to mushroom to other towns.”
Saw him working at the pharmacy
On Jan. 15, Meawad, with fellow Investigator Juan Barrera, canvassed a Guttenberg neighborhood along 80th Street and Kennedy Boulevard based on information that one of the artists, “Turk,” worked in a pharmacy nearby.
According to the police report, upon entering the pharmacy, the police noticed a white male who matched the physical description they had. He was wearing a white lab coat with the nametag “Andres.” The individual was immediately nervous when the police asked to speak with him, according to the report.
Andres Pavon, 18, of North Bergen, was brought to police headquarters after his shift and admitted to spray painting two properties in Guttenberg, along with others in West New York, Union City, Weehawken and North Bergen, as well as freight trains and NJ Transit buses, police said.
Pavon was charged with two counts of criminal mischief.
Justin Castillo, 19, of North Bergen, was arrested for one count of criminal mischief on Jan. 18. He also admitted to “tagging” properties in North Bergen and West New York with “Wetz” and “Meen,” police said.
Meawad was able to arrest David Calderon, 20, of Jersey City on Jan. 21. After reviewing photographs of graffiti, Calderon admitted responsibility for six graffiti tags and received six counts of criminal mischief, police said.
The fourth arrest made on Jan. 22 was aided by the suspect’s Myspace.com page, where his photo, along with photos of graffiti tags, was posted, said Magenheimer. After receiving tips from other graffiti artists, Meawad was able to identify “Nois” as Oscar Bamaca, 18, of West New York. He received four charges of criminal mischief.
“We got information of him, went to MySpace, identified him, [and] he had his pictures [and tags] on there, bragging about it,” said Magenheimer.
According to Magenheimer, all of graffiti artists cooperated with the investigation and admitted which tags they had executed.
He tagged his own door
Magenheimer noted that police must pay attention to graffiti because street gangs use it as a tool for marking territory and threatening enemies. He said it is important to distinguish gang tags from those of the young people who see them as an “art form.”
The lieutenant said that in recent years, graffiti has become “terrible” and that the work on this case by his investigators was outstanding. Many other municipalities are interested in the case because they have the same graffiti tags there, he said.
The investigation was aided by the North Bergen and West New York police departments.
“We went to [one individual’s] house to put charges against him and he had [tagged] his door,” said Magenheimer.
Those arrested remorseful
Most of those arrested apologized for their acts while giving their statements to the police, according to the report.
“I’m trying to change my ways,” said Pavon in his statement. “I just got rid of all my paint. I decided to get into the legit arts.”
Bamaca, or “Nois,” explained that he began tagging for “getting up,” or increasing his fame, but was now “sorry” for his actions, said the report. Castillo said in his statement that the whole point of graffiti was to get one’s name out there and that his “open canvases” of private properties weren’t damaged “intentionally against that person.”
Calderon, whose names included “Aspect,” “Tase,” “Lase” and “Sleepy,” said that his motivation for getting into graffiti was that he was “stressed and angry” at family and friends. In his statement he promised to not take part in graffiti again.
“I asked them in questioning on what they call their way of ‘getting up,’ ” said Meawad. “They feel it’s art. Most of them after being interviewed realized that they are damaging property.”
Through their investigation, the department is looking to identify several other graffiti taggers. Magenheimer said graffiti is causing serious problems throughout the tri-state area.
Meawad, who made all four arrests, said that the Investigation Unit has given the department, which is short of manpower, a “feasible way” to solve crimes that need follow-up investigation.
He explained that while Guttenberg is a small town – in fact, it encompasses 4 by 12 blocks on the Hudson County waterfront – it is also one of the most densely populated municipalities in the United States. The Police Department has to be “proactive” because of that, he said.
“[We follow the] the broken window theory, which basically goes on to state that small crimes lead to big crimes, and any criminal that comes into a jurisdiction with graffiti all over the place is going to think it’s a free-for-all,” said Meawad. “We’re a small town. We care a lot about our residents, and [Magenheimer] makes sure we address quality of life issues above any other call.”
“All graffiti in the town of Guttenberg is reported and photographed,” Magenheimer said, “and sooner or later I will have the actor responsible for his or her tags.”