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In deal, taggers don't have to pay L.A. millions for graffiti cleanup

June 20, 2012 |  1:25 pm

Graffiti settlement

Former members of the Metro Transit Assassins tagging crew will not have to pay the city of Los Angeles millions of dollars for vandalism cleanup but will be subject to some of the same restrictions placed on gang members under an agreement reached with the city attorney.

The settlement was announced Wednesday, the resolution of a landmark lawsuit against the taggers that sought to restrict their behavior and force them to pay $1.2 million in penalties and $3.7 million in damages for "500 documented incidents of graffiti vandalism."

The lawsuit against 11 alleged members of the crew was filed in June 2010 in response to a quarter-mile-long graffiti "bomb" of its acronym along the Los Angeles River. 

Initially, city lawyers also sought to prevent the individuals -- including artist Cristian Gheorghiu, a.k.a. Smear -- from profiting from the sale of any related art.

Attorneys from the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California challenged the proposed injunction on 1st Amendment grounds, but a judge found that the constitution "does not protect destruction of public or private property by graffiti vandalism, trespass and illegal activities."

Under the deal, defendants are prohibited from associating with other members of the tagging crew in public and possessing graffiti tools. They must also obey an adult curfew, according to Deputy City Atty. Jim McDougal.

The city will not enforce an unspecified financial judgment against the defendants as long as they refrain from any "graffiti vandalism." The defendants must perform 100 hours of graffiti removal. 

"I feel like I just woke up from a nightmare," Gheorghiu said. "I can go forward now without all that twisted perverse baggage." He said he never participated in the giant MTA tag and has spent the last several years concentrating on gallery art, including for a fall show at Azusa Pacific University.

Peter Bibring, an ACLU attorney who represented Gheorghiu said the former tagger will not be subject to the deal's terms because he has gone more than five years without a conviction for graffiti vandalism and completed his community service.

Gheorghiu was one of eight defendants who agreed to the settlement. Two others never defended themselves against the allegation and a default judgment was entered on their behalf, officials said. The 11th defendant was deported.

"We must use all available legal tools to stop this vandalism, which taggers refer to as 'wrecking.'" L.A. City Atty. Carmen Trutanich said in announcing the settlement.

During Trutanich's recent bid for district attorney's office, street artists were among his most active and outspoken opponents.

The MTA "bomb" was removed  as part of a $1.3-million graffiti abatement program by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. One of the largest tags in the United States, its letters covered a three-story-high wall and ran between the 4th Street and 1st Street bridges.



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-- Richard Winton

Photo: Removal of the "MTA" tag from along the L.A. River. Photo: Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times