Jacksonville artist arrested on felony charges for painting city utility boxes

Rarely do vandalism charges make headlines in the local media, but the arrest of a Jacksonville artist this month is igniting a debate on art versus vandalism. A local artist was painting the utility boxes in the cloak of darkness and went by the name Keith Haring’s Ghost, a tribute to a late New York graffiti artist, according to a report in the Florida Times-Union. Police subpoenaed Facebook records and other Internet footprint data to tie the actual person to the Ghost, the newspaper reported. He was charged with felony criminal mischief in Duval County. The charge is a third-degree felony punishable by up to five years in state prison. Criminal mischief becomes a felony if the damage or the cost to restore the property is more than $1,000, according to Florida law. The city of Jacksonville is estimating the damages in this Jacksonville Criminal Mischief Case at $1,100, therefore bumping the charge up to a felony.

The artist admitted to police that he was, in fact, the Ghost, the newspaper reported. Police have plenty of evidence against him, the newspaper reported, including his cell phone which contains pictures of his art. Many in the community have taken to social media to come to the artist’s defense, even organizing fundraisers to help pay for his defense and his family’s expenses, the newspaper reported. They argue that Jacksonville has plenty of violent crime that needs police attention and arresting an artist on vandalism charges is a waste of resources. Others argue that rules are rules and there are other canvases artists can use to exhibit their work. Many of the paintings are political in nature, showing support for Jordan Davis, a black Jacksonville teen who was shot killed by a middle-aged white man in an argument over loud music. The case drew national attention when it went to trial earlier this year and the jury could not agree on the first-degree murder charge, but convicted the shooter on several other lesser charges.

Had the paintings been more innocuous, perhaps the charges would have never been filed – particularly as a felony. But police and prosecutors do not take kindly to people openly thumbing their nose at the law and often look to make an example of people in Jacksonville Criminal Mischief Cases like this, showing others that this type of behavior won’t be tolerated. It will be interesting to see how far prosecutors take this case, or if discussion ends up centering on reducing the charge to a misdemeanor. Either way, this Jacksonville Criminal Mischief Case is now firmly in the media spotlight and, if attention is what the artist was looking for, he has it now.

If you or a loved one needs a criminal defense attorney in Jacksonville or the surrounding area, call The Mussallem Law Firm at (904) 365-5200 for a FREE CONSULTATION. Our Jacksonville Criminal Mischief Attorney, Victoria “Tori” Mussallem, is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.