Carroll teens accused of crime Taneytown chief calls graffiti act of juvenile vandalism

November 12, 1998|By Mike Farabaugh | Mike Farabaugh,SUN STAFF

In a case that attracted the attention of the FBI and other federal agencies, two Carroll County teen-agers are accused of spray-painting racist and pornographic graffiti in the newly built Taneytown home of an African-American woman last month, police said yesterday.

The pair -- one 16 years old and the other 18 -- are accused of breaking into three houses in Taneytown on the night of Oct. 4, police said, and vandalizing one of them, a home owned by Karen Magruder, a participant in a self-help housing project. Magruder, 29, found the graffiti the next day while checking on her house in the 200 block of Maryland Ave. She had gone there to complete a few finishing touches before moving in with her three children, ages 11, 7 and 2.

Though the graffiti were racially and sexually explicit, Taneytown police chief Melvin Diggs said it was an incident of juvenile vandalism and not a hate crime because the 16-year-old told police they did not know who was moving into the house.

The FBI and other federal agencies involved in the program had joined in the investigation.

FBI spokesman Peter A. Gulotta Jr. declined to comment last night on the investigation. Gulotta said federal offices were closed yesterday for Veterans Day, and FBI investigators might not have learned that local police had made an arrest.

FBI findings routinely are forwarded to the U.S. attorney's office and the U.S. Department of Justice, Gulotta said. "They will decide whether the facts warrant prosecution," he said.

Diggs said police received information Monday that led them to a junkyard in Westminster where the teen-agers had worked and then to the 16-year-old, who had only recently moved to Taneytown.

"The 16-year-old told us that they found two cans of spray paint sitting in Mrs. Magruder's home and just used it," Diggs said. "He said the 18-year-old was a 'Yo Boy,' [slang for] a white youth who hangs out with black teen-agers on the street."

The juvenile told police that the language sprayed in green paint on the walls and appliances in the Magruders' kitchen was "slang, trashy street talk used by Yo Boys," Diggs said.

The 16-year-old was charged with burglary and malicious destruction of property. Police yesterday were seeking a warrant for the arrest of the 18-year-old, a Westminster man.

Magruder, a full-time cook at Carroll County General Hospital for eight years, said yesterday that she felt relieved and happy when Diggs called Tuesday evening to let her know what the juvenile had told officers.

Magruder said she moved into her home two weeks ago, but every night she has wondered if someone was lurking outside, watching her and her children.

Eight months in construction, her four-bedroom colonial was built with sweat equity and the help of Interfaith Housing of Western Maryland Inc., a nonprofit group with 17 affordable housing projects from Garrett to Carroll counties.

"I still have some doubts, why they used certain words," she said. "Were they definitely directed at me [being African-American] and, if not, did they know I was a woman?"

James Upchurch, president of Interfaith Housing of Western Maryland, said he was pleased to learn that the "illogical and senseless act apparently was random."

The good news, he said, is that they did not intend to cause the Magruders pain and anguish. The bad news is that they "failed to recognize how lethal such words can be to hurt people in the community.

"We still need to do a lot of education to help be better citizens in a more civil society," he said.

Diggs maintained from the beginning that the incident was a juvenile act of vandalism and not a hate crime. Others in Taneytown, a rapidly growing blue-collar community where less than 1 percent of the population is African-American, were doubtful.

Initially, Magruder, a lifelong resident of Westminster, said she was "totally hurt."

"I couldn't believe it happened," she said. "I know [prejudice] exists. I'm not blind. But I was shocked because I didn't think that a small town like Taneytown would have this kind of vandalism."

Upchurch said he would welcome the opportunity to sit down with both teen-agers to help them make a transition in their lives.

The act was wrong, he said, but "we would want to show them the same kind of respect that we hope they will show to others."

Pub Date: 11/12/98

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