Street artist Shepard Fairey, most famous for his iconic (and controversial) Obama “Hope” poster, was arrested last week in Los Angeles upon returning to the United States from Europe. Fairey is charged with vandalizing 14 different buildings in Detroit.
Fairey was arrested on Monday. “Our warrant was evidently discovered as he went through customs, and he was placed under arrest,” Douglas Baker, chief of criminal enforcement for the Detroit Law Department, told the Detroit News. After he was arrested, however, Fairey was released. “Per the county’s policy, they don’t extradite on lower-level cases like this,” Baker said.
Detroit city officials are discussing with Fairey when he will travel to the city to face the charges against him. Last month, the News reports, Wayne County prosecutors alleged that, last May, Fairey vandalized 14 different buildings and walls, including two city-owned properties, and charged Fairey with malicious destruction of property over $1,000 and less than $20,000.
Fairey was in Detroit on assignment, the Detroit Free Press reports, making commissioned work that included an 18-story mural for Dan Gilbert, owner of the Cleveland Cavaliers, at one of Gilbert’s businesses, Real Estate Services.
According to the Free Press, Gilbert has previously pursued (“aggressively”) those responsible for vandalizing his buildings. Now, an artist in the city at his invitation has tagged other business owners’ property:
Matt Eaton, a partner at the Library Street Collective, the downtown gallery that is currently hosting a Fairey exhibition and also worked with Bedrock and Meridian Health to bring Fairey to town, said he was disappointed that Detroit police targeted the artist.
“I see it as a valuable tool for highlighting a bunch of inconsistencies and hypocrisies in the strategies that the city has taken,” said Eaton, citing other street art that hasn’t been pursued by law enforcement.
“All that says to me is that here’s a world-famous artist, and Detroit needs some attention, so they’re going to crack down and make an example of him.”
Sgt. Rebecca McKay told the News that the Detroit Police Department’s general assignment unit, which handles quality-of-life issues, has arrested 13 people for graffiti violations this year. Baker confirmed that some of those people have gone to jail.
“Our recommendations are tailored to the offender and other circumstances, but we are not hesitating to recommend jail time, and we have some offenders going to jail,” Baker said.
The charges Fairey faces carry sentences up to five years in prison and fines three times the monetary damage caused, the News reports. Baker declined to say whether he would seek a jail sentence for Fairey.