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5 teens arrested in graffiti cases

Citizen involvement is credited with the rapid arrest of five juveniles in two separate graffiti incidents within minutes Tuesday.

A 14-year-old and two 15-year-olds were arrested about 4:16 p.m. on vandalism charges after a witness observed them spraying nine scrawlings on a wall behind homes along Campus Drive, directly behind a ballfield at Merced High School and near Black Rascal Creek.

Minutes later, a 14-year-old and his 15-year-old brother also were arrested on graffiti charges in an unrelated incident at Hoover Middle School, 800 E. 26th St.

In the first incident, officers Peter Lee and Mark Fillebrown, along with Sgt. Chris Goodwin, responded to the rear of the Merced High School baseball field in response to a witness who was watching the game, Cmdr. Floyd Higdon of the Merced Police Department said.

The witness observed three boys spray painting the wall next to Black Rascal Creek. The three painted at least nine separate places on the wall within a distance of 145 feet. As the officers arrived, the three split up and went different ways, throwing the spray paint cans into the brush along the creek bank.

In the Hoover incident, officers responded to a report that two teens and their pet pit bull were entering the school property with what was believed to be a can of spray paint wrapped up in their clothing.

At Merced High School, at least one can of green spray paint was recovered by police officers. The witnesses stayed on the telephone, directing the officers to the three teens, who were detained by the officers.

The witness positively identified the three youth. Each of the boys had green paint on his hands, the same color as the graffiti on the wall and the color of the spray can recovered. One of the 15-year-old boys admitted tagging, but the two others denied any involvement. The three boys were taken to Merced County Juvenile Hall on the vandalism charge, Higdon said.

At Hoover, Officer Ryan Rasmussen and Sgt. Rod Court detained the two youth within the school property. They checked the area and found one example of gang-related graffiti, pained in white paint, on one of the boy's restroom doors. A spray can of white paint was located in a nearby trash can.

The 14-year-old brother admitted to the spray painting. His older brother, who has a medical condition, also implicated his brother in the vandalism. The younger brother was taken to Merced County Juvenile Hall on the vandalism charge.

The older brother was released to his parents because of his medical condition. He will be referred to juvenile probation officers for further processing, Higdon said.

Higdon is grateful for residents stepping up to report crimes they see happening. He said police are trying to crack down on graffiti, which is unacceptable.

He commends residents who were directly involved in both of the graffiti cases, and many others involved with other recent incidents that have lead to arrests for serious violations.

"We cannot do this alone without the eyes of our citizens," Higdon said. "We very much appreciate their involvement with helping us serve them. If you see a crime occurring, call us on 911, or if using a cell phone, program your cell phone to dial 385-6912 directly to avoid a delay in the call being forwarded to the police department."

Court said the citizen's report of juveniles entering the school may have spared it more graffiti damage.

"Who knows how much damage they would have done?" Court said.

Associate Editor Doane Yawger can be reached at (209) 385-2485 or