Noe Valley Voice November 2002

24th Street Tagger 'ROC' Arrested

By Kathy Dalle-Molle

After almost four months of eluding police, "ROC," a graffiti vandal who has been accused of going on a tagging rampage along 24th Street, was arrested in early October. The 17-year-old was charged by the San Francisco Police Department with 11 felony counts of vandalism using caustic chemicals, and three misdemeanors related to possession of vandalism tools.

According to Officer Christopher Putz, of the Police Department's Graffiti Abatement Program, ROC is currently in juvenile detention awaiting a court date on the charges--10 of which are linked to the thousands of dollars in damage he allegedly caused to store windows on the south side of 24th Street between Castro and Church in the early morning hours of June 19.

In that tagging spree, ROC, who has a history of graffiti vandalism including one previous attack on 24th Street, used a highly destructive form of graffiti called acid-etching to mar the windows of close to a dozen shops. Among those with lasting scars were Cotton Basics, Noe Valley Bakery, Panetti's Gifts, Astrid's Rabat Shoes, the French Tulip, Designer's Club, Tuggey's Hardware, and the 24th Street Cheese Company.

Cheese Company manager Nancy Ford expressed relief when she learned of ROC's arrest. "I'm glad he got caught, but I had no doubt the police would catch him eventually," she said. "I just hope that this time they do something to stop him from doing it again."

Even though plainclothes officers from both the Mission and Ingleside police districts had been actively looking for him, ironically it was two Richmond Station patrol officers who arrested ROC in the early morning hours of Oct. 6, on charges completely unrelated to graffiti vandalism.

A little after midnight, while cruising in their squad car, the officers spotted three young men in a golf cart with a flat tire, driving along Vicente Street near 41st Avenue. When the police stopped and questioned the youths, one, a 16-year-old, admitted he had "hot-wired" a cart taken from the Lincoln Golf Course near the Legion of Honor, and then driven to a party at a house on 29th Avenue where he had picked up two friends. The three then went on a joyride through the Richmond District, crashing into several large trees along the way.

The 16-year-old who "hot-wired" the cart was cited for theft of a vehicle and released to the custody of his mother, pending a court date. Another 16-year-old was detained but not charged. The third man, who had been driving the cart, told police that he was 18 years old. He was charged with theft of a vehicle and possession of stolen goods and booked into jail at Richmond Station.

Following a fingerprint check, however, police determined that the man in custody had provided them with a false name and birth date and that he was in fact the juvenile known as "ROC," with a warrant out for his arrest. ROC was then transported to the Youth Guidance Center, where he is now being held while his case is reviewed by the District Attorney's Office.

Meanwhile, back on 24th Street, some storefronts still bear the "ROC" moniker that was etched in white capital letters using hydrofluoric-acid cream this past June. And merchants like Kay Lamming of Cotton Basics are still debating whether to replace their windows. (Unlike spray-paint graffiti, which can be painted over or scrubbed off, acid-paint graffiti eats through glass. Shopkeepers are often left with no other choice but to replace the graffitied window.)

"It's just too expensive for us to replace the window," said Lamming, who has received an estimate of $1,500. "I don't want to replace it and then have somebody turn around and do graffiti like this again."

Although she is discouraged by what ROC did to her storefront, Lamming has mixed feelings about his arrest.

"What he has done is irritating and destructive," she said, "but I hate to hear of a kid getting stuck in the criminal justice system. I'm all in favor of him providing restitution for the damage he's done, but I don't know how he'd do that if he was put in jail."

Still, Lamming wants ROC to understand how his actions affect others. "I would like him to know what it means when he destroys property--that there are economic consequences. If he at least was made to make money to pay the merchants back for the damage, he would get some education about what it's like in the real world."

According to Officer Putz, there is a good chance that ROC will both serve time in a juvenile facility and be forced to pay back the merchants he's harmed. "I feel strongly that ROC should make restitution to his victims," said Putz.

Putz added that word of ROC's arrest had spread quickly among other graffiti offenders and they are beginning to realize that 24th Street is off limits.

"These kids have a network," said Putz. "They actively talk and gossip, and they know that the merchants on 24th Street banded together [last June] to file police reports about the vandalism and that that got me really focusing on ROC. ROC's arrest has sent a strong message to them: merchants on 24th Street are not going to tolerate any kind of graffiti or vandalism in their neighborhood."

As we were going to press, the Voice learned that at an Oct. 22 hearing, the 17-year-old known as "ROC" pled guilty to two felony counts and two misdemeanor counts of vandalism. He also agreed to pay restitution to all the Noe Valley merchants whose storefronts he had damaged. His sentencing hearing is scheduled for Nov. 5.