- PHOTO BY STEVE E. MILLER
In the first week of March, SLO police arrested a 23-year-old man named Cody Robert Hubbard after watching him vandalize the side of a building with a marker. According to a press release, Hubbard is considered responsible for $20,000 worth of damage for similarly styled tags found around downtown and he was arrested without incident.
Catching an alleged graffiti hooligan is rarely that easy for police.
Yet on Feb. 25, police were able to get a warrant that allowed them to raid the home of suspected tagger Justin Medina using a tactic more reliable than luck and stake-outs: They used the Internet to find photos Medina himself posted of art, tags, and comments left by his friends. According to court documents, police essentially Googled his tag name.
They came up with a page on the photo-sharing site Flickr as well as a MySpace page, which they linked to Medina because his face is clearly visible in the photos. The warrant described Medina as a known tagger who’s been busted before at a tunnel frequented by local graffiti artists.
SLOPD Lieutenant Bill Proll declined to comment on what he called an “ongoing investigation,” but court documents tell a story all too familiar.
This is the second graffiti raid in less than a year stemming from an online investigation. The first Involved Nic Rodriguez, a local artist with a history of legitimate public art projects and a website where he sold art on canvases, clothes, and stickers. Police used his web page to link him to dozens of stickers that find their way onto public and private property. Rodriguez was arrested when the warrant was served at his house and subsequently charged with several counts of vandalism.
Unlike Rodriguez, Medina was not arrested, but as they did with his fellow artist, police seized art supplies which included pens, paint, and poster board, according to receipts from the raid.
The results of the raid were worse for Medina’s roommates.
Although Medina’s roommates have up-to-date doctors’ recommendations for medical marijuana, police confiscated several marijuana plants and several hundred grams of dried marijuana, as well as scales, pills, and sandwich baggies. Both of Medina’s roommates were arrested and are facing charges for possession.
Although the warrant didn’t mention anything about marijuana, the web pages that included Medina’s art included numerous photos of marijuana use and cultivation. Lt. Proll said the marijuana plants were a surprise, and a witness to the raid said the narcotics officers showed up at the scene only after the first batch of police entered the house.
Still, the result of the raid initially led Medina and others involved to believe they were targeted for the marijuana, not the graffiti. Proll disputed this, but he would not elaborate on the details of the case.
In the police officer’s affidavit, the officer said he had “previously used the Internet photo sharing website Flickr to locate vandalism and suspects.”
So police have started doing what employers and parents have been doing for years: using the Internet to gather information on people. Conventional wisdom warns against posting pictures of embarrassing or illegal activities, like smoking pot or painting on other people’s property, but that doesn’t stop the millions of people who use sites like Flickr and MySpace from sharing. ∆
Staff writer Kylie Mendonca can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.