Three men were arrested Thursday after a three-month investigation into severe damage to a foreclosed house, done, authorities say, by displaced tenants and partygoers during a "Sharpie party."
Matthew Clements, 24, and James Blaylock, 21, both of Merced, and Brian McNeil, 30, of Atwater were all booked at the Merced County Main Jail on suspicion of taking part in the vandalism.
More arrests could follow, authorities say.
At a Sharpie party, a gathering of evicted tenants, often fueled by alcohol, pass out felt-tip markers and vandalize the property before the bank takes it over.
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Although it isn't uncommon for foreclosed homes to sustain some damage from disgruntled occupants, investigators and real estate agents described the scene at 1046 Mirror Lake Drive as "shocking," "senseless" and "extreme."
Much of the house had been torn apart and there were spots on the floor stained with vomit. The walls were covered with vulgar language and depictions of sex acts.
Anna Hazel, an investigator with the Merced County district attorney's office who spent more than 100 hours looking into the case, said additional evidence was seized when search warrants were served Thursday.
"It took a little while, but we wanted to be thorough with what we were doing." Hazel said. "We took our time getting the evidence that we needed to be able to get to the place we're at today."
More than vandalism
Clements, a son of the owner of the foreclosed home, had been evicted, Hazel said. He was arrested on suspicion of felony vandalism, burglary and conspiracy. He is being held on $27,000 bail.
Blaylock was arrested on suspicion of the same offenses, as well as threatening a peace officer and destruction of evidence. His bail is set at $47,000.
McNeil was arrested on the same charges as Blaylock, as well as possession of an illegal assault rifle.
Those involved in the Sharpie party tried to destroy online photos, videos and conversations, leading to the additional charges of conspiracy and destruction of evidence, Hazel said.
There were 50 to 100 people at the party, according to witness statements. The party started the night of Feb. 25 and went into the early morning of Feb. 26, Hazel said.
The investigation began with authorities gathering witness statements. They later got search warrants for various social media accounts, which played a key role in the arrests.
Many of those attending the party used smart phones and Facebook accounts to broadcast to others what they were doing, said Wayne Hutton, a supervising investigator with the DA's office.
"For someone to commit these flat-out destructive crimes on a property, for them not to think they were going to get caught eventually is just ridiculous because of the number of people that are out there taking video and posting pictures," Hutton said.
The DA's office will try to identify other suspects through the photos and videos investigators have gathered, he noted.
Even with the damage, the house was sold a couple of months ago, said real estate agent Ernie Ochoa, who was the first to discover the damage to the property.
The bank took a loss, as did homeowners in the neighborhood, who will likely see lower property values because the heavily damaged home was sold at a reduced price.
The investigation is ongoing. The suspects arrested Thursday will probably be arraigned next week.
Anyone with additional information about the Mirror Lake Drive incident is asked to call Hazel at (209) 385-7383, ext. 4256.
Reporter Mike North can be reached at (209) 385-2453 or firstname.lastname@example.org.