SCPD releases suspect description in BLM mural vandalism; city leaders address incident
The Santa Cruz Police Department released security-camera stills Wednesday of the suspect who defaced the Black Lives Matter mural with blue paint on Saturday. SCPD is investigating the incident as felony vandalism, but chief Bernie Escalante said a hate crime charge is entirely possible.
The Santa Cruz Police Department released images of a suspect captured on surveillance footage tossing blue paint on the Black Lives Matter mural in front of city hall as local officials gathered Wednesday to denounce the continued vandalism of the mural.
The City of Santa Cruz held a news conference to address the second vandalism of the mural. Santa Cruz Police Chief Bernie Escalante provided a description of the suspect as seen around 6 p.m. Saturday on surveillance footage from cameras at the downtown library.
Escalante described the suspect as a white male adult wearing a light blue shirt, khaki or white shorts, white slip-on sandals and a paper mask on his face. He arrived at and fled the scene on a red Vespa or similar scooter.
“Over the last several days we’ve spent hours canvassing the area looking for additional evidence, witnesses or surveillance cameras,” Escalante said. “At this point, we’re asking the community for their assistance.”
Escalante added that SCPD was unable to see the scooter’s license plate, but that the perpetrator did leave the paint can at the scene. He said the incident is being investigated as felony vandalism, but investigators will look into the potential for a hate crime charge as they continue to review and gather evidence.
He urged residents to come forward if they think they might know the suspect.
“I would try to convince them that their friend or family member has committed a cowardly act of hatred and needs to be held responsible,” Escalante said.
Santa Cruz Mayor Fred Keeley denounced the vandalism and called the local community “one that has absolutely zero tolerance for hate or discrimination and for acts of violence and intimidation against community members.”
Elaine Johnson, president of the Santa Cruz NAACP chapter, said incidents like these are rooted in fear, and that Santa Cruz needs to “step it up.”
“It saddens me that people get up and think to make a decision to instill fear and hurt and harm somebody that looks like me,” she said. “And today I say we will not back down.”
City Councilmember Sonja Brunner said that she, Escalante, Keeley and Santa Cruz City Manager Matt Huffaker met with members of the mural’s creators, the SC Equity Collab, on Tuesday evening and discussed how the city can support the Collab, beginning with identifying the person responsible for the vandalism: “I think it was clear that both we at the city and the SC Equity Collab have the same goals for the next step.”
Keeley said the Collab “correctly” pressed them on what the city is doing internally to address racism and anti-Blackness other than news conferences and statements.
“We are engaged in terms of examining ourselves as an institution, not just saying we are an equal opportunity employer, and not simply saying the things that are minimums of the law,” he said. “That portion of the conversation was helpful, educational and challenging to us as an institution, and we intend to continue to respond in an informative, active way.”
Keeley added that both Huffaker and Escalante indicated that they are looking into adding more surveillance cameras to the area to keep the entire mural in view.
Anyone with information about the suspect can contact the SCPD tip line at 831-420-5995.
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