School graffiti trial to begin Police note increase in hate vandalism: racial slurs, threats

July 14, 1997|By Caitlin Francke | Caitlin Francke,SUN STAFF

An 18-year-old Elkridge man is to stand trial today on charges of spray-painting five county schools -- including his own -- with racist and threatening graffiti, some of which attacked a Howard High School assistant principal who suspended the man's alleged accomplice five years ago.

School officials say graffiti has become a growing problem in the county for five years, and offenders are leaving angry messages: swastikas, racial epithets and signs of devil worship.

Police and prosecutors said they don't know what is driving the offensive vandalism, only that they are seeing more and more of it.

Police have established a reward system for tipsters who call in about offenders, and they encourage businesses to call them when "suspicious" people buy spray paint, said Sgt. Glenn Hansen, a Howard police spokesman.

Hansen said the painted messages probably are inspired by JJTC desire to be noticed.

"If you hit a hot enough topic, it's a way to get attention," Hansen said.

But he added: "Some youth are angry, and this is a way for them to speak out in relative anonymity."

Cleaning up graffiti costs money. In the past school year, Howard County schools had to deal with about 80 graffiti attacks -- a similar number to two years previously -- at a cost of about $14,500.

"It's an ongoing [problem]," said Ron Miller, safety and insurance specialist for Howard County schools. "It goes in spurts around the county."

In the case set for trial today, Cory Lee Lafon, 18, is charged with 21 counts of malicious destruction of property, hate crimes and theft.

Neither Lafon nor his lawyer, Clarke F. Ahlers, could be reached for comment.

According to court records, Lafon and William Francis Holderman, 20, began a vandalism spree last winter. On Jan. 3, the two allegedly painted the doors, walls and windows of Howard High School with black spray paint, spelling out phrases such as: "White Power" and "Satan Loves You."

In several of the five attacks, the target was Steven Wallis, assistant principal of Howard High School. Wallis suspended Holderman five years ago for vandalism and assault, according to arrest reports in the current case.

Other vandalism incidents in which Lafon is charged occurred at Ellicott Mills Middle School, Worthington Middle School and Mount Hebron High School.

The two are also accused of breaking into Ellicott Mills Middle School through a trap door that led to a janitor's closet in late January. After rifling through cat-box litter and rolls of toilet paper, the two took several American flags and burned them on the roof, arrest reports say.

Police arrested Holderman, who worked as a manager for McDonald's in Restaurant Park on Route 108 in Columbia, after an anonymous caller told police that Holderman boasted he had made the news for spray-painting the schools. He will be tried later.

Howard County prosecutors have set a priority on prosecution of graffiti and other misdemeanors to crack down on crimes that spoil residents' quality of life.

In another graffiti case, Christopher Falk, 23, of Wilde Lake village was convicted May 23 of 14 counts of malicious destruction for spraying his "SPC" tag over scores of buildings in Columbia before his arrest last year. Prosecutors said the tag stood for "Satan's Perfect Child," but Falk's defense counsel denied it. Falk is to be sentenced July 31.

Pub Date: 7/14/97

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