Two men were arrested Monday and charged with felonies for vandalism and criminal trespass after they collectively caused over $50,000 of damage by tagging different locations throughout Tooele City.
“We had had several unsolved graffiti cases from the past three years,” Det. Colbey Bentley, Tooele City Police Department’s graffiti expert said. “There just wasn’t enough evidence to pursue anyone, let alone identify a suspect.”
Then, a few weeks ago, Bentley received a break in a case he was working on.
“An officer sent out an attempt to identify a video where a male was seen writing the letters ‘CNS’ at a business here in Tooele near 400 North and Main Street,” he said. “When the officer sent that out, one of our other detectives had identified the male.”
The detective said the male’s name was Aaron Deherrera, a 31-year-old male.
Bentley recalls seeing the CNS tag around town for years as part of his investigations but he hadn’t been able to solve the case, until now.
During the past few weeks, Bentley was able to tell that Deherrera had painted several other tags around town near the CNS tag by connecting the handwriting, paint color, and location of tags.
After investigating, Bentley was able to identify several other tags around town that Deherrera had painted, including the letters “POST,” “POSR,” “POS,” and “ESKEL.”
Yesterday around 6:30 a.m., officers located Deherrera and brought him back to the police department for questioning where he admitted to most of the tags that Bentley mentioned.
“We are looking at around 200 tags that I believe he is responsible for,” Bentley said. “We are estimating that he caused around $40,000 of damage or more. With graffiti in Utah, the law states that you have to pay all the money back that it costs to fix it. That includes hourly wage, paint, other materials, and things like that. The price can go high pretty quickly…$40,000 is a rough estimate.”
Deherrera was booked into the Tooele County Jail and is facing second-degree felony graffiti, class B misdemeanor criminal trespass and a class A misdemeanor for bringing marijuana seeds into the Tooele County jail when he was booked.
Gabriel Mascarenas, 27, was also arrested around 2 p.m Monday on graffiti charges.
Mascarenas had been tagging “SMASH” around town since the beginning of the year and was ultimately caught after he was spotted tagging on camera footage.
“We got camera footage from a hotel down on the south end of town where the tag was,” Bentley said. “We looked at that and we had a case recently where our detectives were doing some follow up and received some information that Gabriel may be responsible for some of the tagging.”
It is estimated that Mascarenas painted over 50 tags throughout Tooele, which caused around $11,000 worth of damage. According to Utah law, he will have to pay back the full amount.
When officers located Mascarenas, he had just committed retail theft at Big 5 Sporting Goods and was located next to his car.
“When they found him Monday, Gabriel was next to his car and he had tagged the word ‘SMASH’ on the side of his car in silver paint,” Bentley said. “The silver paint was also inside of his car.”
Mascarenas was taken to the Tooele City Police Department where he refused to talk to officers without a lawyer present. Officers informed him of his rights and the charges, and booked him into the Tooele County jail on second-degree felony vandalism, class B misdemeanor trespassing, and Class B misdemeanor retail theft.
The idea of a legal graffiti wall has been circulating between city officials.
“I love the idea of a legal graffiti wall,” Bentley said. “I brought the idea up with both of the guys [Deherrera and Mascarenas] and they loved that idea too, because in the end, some of these people just want a place to tag…When you look at some of these tags, some of them are beautiful but they don’t have a proper place to do it… If we have a spot where people can tag and express themselves, then I do think there is an opportunity to cut down on a lot of graffiti we are seeing around the city.”