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Graffiti Artist Reforms Too Late; Charged With Felonies

Times Staff Writer

“Ozone” may be gone.

But Los Angeles police have decided that the teen-age graffiti artist who scrawled that word on hundreds of places during a three-month period shouldn’t be forgotten.

Investigators said Thursday they have arrested the 17-year-old Woodland Hills high school senior who spray-painted “ozone” on walls, bus benches and other surfaces before realizing graffiti were destructive and deciding to put away his spray can.

Police said Christopher Coggan was recognized by a witness to one of his graffiti attacks who later saw a May 7 report and photos in The Times about Coggan’s switch from graffiti to art murals.

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“Ozone is gone,” said Coggan at the time. “I’ll never do it again. Now I see that it’s ugly.”

Coggan said he “tagged"--spray-painted his mark-- for up to 12 hours at a stretch, covering surfaces in the south and West San Fernando Valley and in Hollywood. He said he never was accosted, even though he often painted along busy streets such as Ventura Boulevard in broad daylight.

Capt. John Higgins, commander of the Police Department’s West Valley Division, said a Woodland Hills woman stepped forward last week to identify Coggan as the youth who painted a bus bench.

Earlier, a spokesman for the Los Angeles city attorney’s office had said there “would have to be the element of an eyewitness or the tangible evidence on the person at the time of apprehension” for a graffiti artist to face prosecution.

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Coggan was charged with felony vandalism because of the enormous amount of spray-painting he acknowledged doing, Higgins said.

The charge will prevent him from merely being counseled and released, as misdemeanor vandals usually are.

Felony vandalism can be charged if damage exceeds $5,000, he said.

“We have begun taking the position that this type of vandalism is a very serious thing,” Higgins said. “Now we file petitions with juvenile probation officials and send them to court.”

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No ‘Self-Reformation’

Coggan “admitted he was responsible for a great deal of vandalism and now sees the error of his ways,” Higgins said. “But we don’t think this is a situation where we can have self-reformation. It’s something he can talk to the judge about.”

No date for a juvenile court hearing has been scheduled, officials said.

Detective Tim Yost said Coggan was “extremely cooperative” after his arrest at home.

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He later was released to the custody of his parents.

“He’s volunteered to me that he’d like to make everything right. He sounds sincere. I was impressed with the kid. He did a lot of vandalism, but I don’t think he’s a bad kid,” Yost said.

Jean Coggan, Chris’ mother, said Thursday that she hopes her son can deter other teen-agers from painting graffiti. “I don’t know how this will end in court. I just hope it is positive,” she said.

Coggan could not be reached for comment Thursday.

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But in an earlier interview, he acknowledged that he had become obsessed with “tagging.”

He said he quit vandalizing when he drove by a Woodland Hills ski shop and saw an old man struggling to paint over one of his “ozone” marks. “I wanted to repaint the whole building for him,” Coggan said. “After that, I never painted ‘ozone’ again.”

He said he recoils when he sees his old “ozone” tag on the roadside.

“I’d like to get rid of it. I’d go back myself and paint over it if I wasn’t afraid I’d get arrested for vandalism for spraying over it.”

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Although the May 7 account of the “ozone” odyssey angered some adults, it also struck a responsive chord with some teen-agers, said Aaron Litwin, 17, a student leader at Canoga Park High School.

Litwin, co-president of the school’s Youth Community Service Club, said Thursday his group is planning a June 4 graffiti paint-out along Topanga Canyon Boulevard.

Coggan has been invited to visit Canoga High classrooms immediately before the cleanup to discuss the graffiti problem with students, Litwin said.

On the cleanup day, Coggan has promised to come and paint out some of his “ozones,” Litwin said.

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