Vandals question repair bill

The two Chico State students who caused a campus uproar over racist graffiti they allegedly scrawled on bulletin boards and posters at Whitney Hall last month have already had their charges reduced from a hate crime to felony vandalism. Now, the lawyer for one of the suspects is hoping to get that charge busted down to an infraction because he claims the school is padding the repair bill for cleaning up the graffiti.

Police arrested Deric Braito and art major Timothy Simmons for scrawling swastikas and offensive slogans at Whitney Hall after discovering Braito’s address—part of an open invitation the pair left for women to have sex and take bong hits with them—amid the graffiti. Prosecutors attempted to charge the pair with a hate crime but were rebuffed by a judge who ruled that the graffiti did not meet hate-crime standards.

Claiming that the pair had caused more than $400 in damages, the prosecution stuck with a felony vandalism charge. But Simmons’ lawyer, Craig Leri, of Marysville, maintains that Chico State is adding routine maintenance costs to the bill and charging exorbitant hourly fees for replacing the damaged bulletin boards.

“For a $5 white board, they charged a half hour’s time,” he said in a phone interview. “It’s like when you go get your alternator worked on and they charge you two hours for 10 minutes of work.”

Leri also said that Chico State workers had discarded key evidence after taking photographs of the graffiti that were too blurry to be analyzed by handwriting experts. Simmons reportedly told police at first that he did much of the damage but later confessed to doing only a small portion of it.

Mike Murphy, the lead prosecutor in the case, called Leri’s assertions “absolute baloney” and said the photographs made the vandalism “abundantly clear and unmistakable.”

“He wants to do handwriting analysis? You can only do handwriting analysis on handwriting,” Murphy said. “You can’t do exemplars on swastikas unless you’ve got a bunch of other swastikas this guy’s written to compare them to.”

Murphy expressed confidence in the county’s case, saying that the university’s housing department has its billing “virtually down to a science.” The person in charge of billing for dorm repairs testified at the preliminary hearing for the case, giving what he termed a “fairly conservative” estimate of the damages.

The desecrating duo confessed to the Whitney Hall graffiti but maintained that they weren’t really racist, just a couple of guys out to "stir things up." Investigators had initially hoped to link the pair to other instances of racist graffiti that had occurred prior to the Whitney Hall incident, but they never found any evidence to support that theory.