St. Augustine officials want to make an example of the three young people who face charges in connection to the many images of graffiti downtown.
In a recent letter to State Attorney R.J. Larizza, City Manager John Regan asked that Larizza's office seek a "significant amount of jail time" for those caught defacing the streets of St. Augustine.
"This is a new attack on our city and we need to send a tough message," Regan said.
Officers have reported more than 40 spray-painted images and phrases on downtown buildings, cars, sidewalks and street signs over the past few weeks, said community resource officer Barbara Stevens. The investigation is ongoing and police are still looking for more suspects, she said.
"We've made less than half the amount of charges to cover all the images found," Stevens said.
Police officers arrested Hudson Patrick Crace, 18, on Feb. 4. He faces 15 counts of third-degree felony criminal mischief charges, which is punishable by up to 75 years in a state prison, according to Shannon Peters, public information officer with the State Attorney's Office. Each count is punishable by up to five years in prison. Since then, three more charges have been filed against him.
However, it is highly unlikely that Crace, if convicted, will ever face a sentence that severe, Peters said.
"It really depends on a lot of factors, including his criminal history, the judge and if he seems remorseful in court," she said.
Crace has no other criminal history in St. Johns County.
Scott Anthony Hill, 22, and Fang Chin Tsai, 20, both of Jacksonville, were arrested on Jan. 20 for spray-painting images of fish on outdoor walls near Hypolita and Charlotte streets. They each face three second-degree misdemeanor charges at this time, which is punishable by up to 180 days in jail, Peters said.
Federal charges against Hill and Tsai for graffiti found on the Castillo de San Marcos are pending.
"If these two face federal charges, it is likely that state charges will be dropped, and they will deal directly with federal prosecution," Peters said.
St. Augustine officials passed a resolution Monday that they hope will help protect the historic buildings in downtown from falling victim of a crime like this again.
The resolution calls to reclassify the statutes of criminal mischief charges, which states than any person who willfully or maliciously injures or damages any property, including graffiti and other forms of vandalism, can face charges. Property damage less than $200 is considered a second-degree misdemeanor, more than $200 but less than $1,000 is a first-degree misdemeanor and damage that is more than $1,000 is considered a first-degree felony, according to the Florida Criminal Law and Motor Vehicle Handbook.
The commission would like to create an exception that would toughen the charges on those who vandalize any building or place that is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, said Assistant City Attorney, Carlos Mendoza. There are almost 30 sites in St. Augustine, including the Flagler College campus, City Hall and the Casa Monica Hotel that make the register, he said.
The resolution would make vandalism on historic buildings punishable by a third-degree felony criminal mischief charge. City officials passed the resolution at the city meeting on Monday, but it is far from being enacted as a state statute, Mendoza said.
"The timing is off. We're at the tail end of the current legislation," Mendoza said. "It's a long shot, but it's likely that the resolution will be on the 2011-2012 agenda."
As for the individuals facing charges, Regan said he and other officials plan to be involved in the conviction process every step of the way.
"We know they aren't hardened criminals. I think some county jail time is an appropriate punishment," Mendoza said. "I agree with Mr. Regan that a significant amount of jail time would give them plenty of time to think about what they did."