O.C. man is shot after surprising graffiti vandals

Times Staff Writers

A Garden Grove man was recovering Monday from gunshot wounds he suffered when he surprised two taggers defacing a wall near his home, police said.

The 43-year-old man and his family arrived home at about 9:30 p.m. Sunday, and he moved his work truck in the 13000 block of Robyn Court. According to a police report, the two suspects were crossing out rival gang graffiti on a nearby wall.

The male suspects fired several shots, wounding the man in the chest, arm and leg, police said. The suspects ran off, and no arrests had been made, Lt. Robert Fowler said.

The man, whose identity was withheld for his protection, was listed in critical condition Monday at UCI Medical Center in Orange and was expected to recover, Fowler said.

It does not appear that the victim, who police said is not a gang member, provoked the suspects.


The incident was at least the fourth time in just over a year that taggers have stabbed or shot people who caught them vandalizing property.

Kevin Ruiz, a retired Santa Ana police officer who spent much of his career investigating gangs, said tagging was normally a misdemeanor that could quickly turn violent.

“When taggers are confronted by citizens,” he said, “it’s a fight-or-flight reaction. They don’t want to get caught, especially if they’re on parole or have outstanding warrants. A lot of times they don’t plan on killing someone, but in some cases events are set in motion. If they have a gun they can put an end to it quickly.”

In February 2007 a retired Los Angeles County sheriff’s deputy was stabbed and briefly hospitalized after he confronted a tagger behind a Huntington Beach pet store. A 16-year-old was arrested on suspicion of assault with a deadly weapon.

Later in the year, two incidents in which women were killed highlighted the growing violence by taggers on people who catch them spraying graffiti.

Maria Elena Hicks, 57, was driving home Aug. 10, 2007, when she spotted a teenager tagging a wall near her Pico Rivera house. She honked and flashed the car lights at him.

The boy began walking away, followed by Hicks in her car. From out of the darkness, a car pulled up behind and a gunman fired several rounds through her car’s rear window. Hicks was struck in the head and died three days later. Four suspects, ranging in age from 16 to 21, were charged in her killing.

Ten days after Hicks’ death, a 65-year-old woman was shot and killed in Hesperia, Calif., after she and her family questioned taggers spray-painting trash cans and the wall of their apartment building.

Seutatia Tausili was shot in the chest and died an hour later. Her grandson was shot in the leg. At least three men were arrested in the shootings.

At least one city is taking measures to deter taggers. Montebello installed a $1-million anti-graffiti system that includes cameras with sensors that police said react to the sound emitted from an aerosol can as far as 80 feet away.

In Los Angeles, surveillance cameras triggered by motion sensors take photographs and play a recorded warning in areas plagued by graffiti and illegal dumping.

Fowler, of the Garden Grove Police Department, advised people not to confront taggers.

“They carry weapons. So keep an eye on them and call us,” he said.