June 21, 2012

Teens face charges over graffiti; Arlington police treating it as a hate crime

They targeted gay people and others with slurs and vulgar messages, police say.

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The Star-Telegram is publishing a photograph provided by police that contains anti-gay slurs. It has been placed in the last position of the gallery accompanying this story to allow readers to make their own decision on whether to view it.

ARLINGTON -- A group of teens who police believe targeted gays and others by spray-painting slurs and vulgar messages on vehicles and homes this month have been identified, thanks to home surveillance cameras that caught them in the act, authorities said Wednesday.

An 18-year-old Fort Worth man has been arrested in connection with the June 10 case that involved at least 13 criminal mischief incidents near the 1100 block of Crowley Road.

Arlington police are treating the case as a hate crime.

Four other teens, who range from 16 to 18 years old, are expected to surrender to authorities.

Home surveillance cameras in the neighborhood captured the incidents, Arlington police said in a Wednesday news conference. A video shows the teens spray-painting property, and another video shows a vehicle that police believe the teens had been driving around in that morning.

Police Sgt. Christopher Cook said Wednesday that authorities did not have evidence that the teens knew their victims, but some of the young people lived in the neighborhood. Arlington police identified the arrested 18-year-old as Daniel Sibley. He was in the Arlington Jail in lieu of $2,500 bail Wednesday. The other four teens, two males and two females, were not in custody late Wednesday afternoon.

They face a charge of graffiti causing $1,500 to $20,000 damage, a state jail felony.

"We want to send a strong message to the community that this type of behavior will not be tolerated," said acting Police Chief Will Johnson, noting that authorities want to pursue the case as a hate crime.

Police believe at least one house was targeted because a lesbian couple lives there. A sticker on one of their vehicles could have given the teens a clue, authorities said.

The president of Fairness Fort Worth, a nonprofit organization created in 2009 to address equality issues, applauded the efforts of Arlington police.

"It was textbook perfect," said Thomas Anable, president of the group. "From how they treated the victims to the entire investigation, they did a perfect job."

The lesbian couple's vehicle was spray-painted with anti-gay slurs sometime on the morning of June 10, and a neighbor awoke to graffiti accusing him of being a child molester. The other graffiti painted in the northwest Arlington neighborhood included racial slurs, hateful messages and derogatory images.

Kim Lovering, who had the rear window of her 2010 Subaru spray-painted with the anti-gay words, said that she wasn't surprised that the vandalism was the work of teens. "I believe it was a hate crime," Lovering said Wednesday afternoon. "They came through the neighborhood on a mission."

But Lovering said the police and residents have reached out in support.

"They've made the effort to make it feel safe," Lovering said. "It's been quite a response."

In nearby Dalworthington Gardens, police said the Arlington suspects are not responsible for a June 7 incident in which racial slurs were painted on a restaurant building and a vehicle.

And Grand Prairie police said they don't believe that the Arlington suspects spray-painted graffiti in a neighborhood there June 12.

Domingo Ramirez Jr., 817-390-7763

Twitter: @mingoramirezjr

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