Boy, 15, in Saguaro Park tagging was on probation

2013-08-11T00:00:00Z 2013-08-12T09:04:52Z Boy, 15, in Saguaro Park tagging was on probationKimberly Matas Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star
August 11, 2013 12:00 am  • 

The Tucson teen facing felony charges for spray-painting graffiti on cacti in Saguaro National Park in May had been placed on probation by a Juvenile Court judge just a day before the vandalism.

Carlos Peters Gandara Jr. 15, was placed on nine months' probation May 10 for possession/use of marijuana, a felony.

The probation agreement he signed also ordered him to have no contact with a woman from a previous incident that occurred when he was 13. In that incident he was found guilty of disorderly conduct and threatening or intimidating. Both charges were misdemeanors.

As part of the May probation order, Gandara also had to sign a "First Felony Adjudication Notice," which said that if he committed another felony offense, he would be placed on juvenile intensive probation. That could mean house arrest, electronic monitoring or incarceration at the Pima County Juvenile Detention Center.

On May 11, a day after he signed the agreements, he went to Saguaro National Park East with his mother and younger brother, where he tagged cacti along the Douglas Spring Trail, a Tucson Police Department reports states.

Eleven saguaros were among the 41 objects - including rocks, posts, signs and other cacti - that were tagged. So far it has cost the park more than $15,000 to clean up the vandalism.

After seeing photos of the vandalism, Officer Abel Urzua, with the TPD graffiti unit recognized the moniker "SOMA" as belonging to Gandara, whom he'd twice questioned about tagging in the city.

Gandara told police "SOMA" stands for Society of Mexican-Americans. During those interviews Urzua noted that Gandara had the letters tattooed on his knuckles and the word was written on several slips of paper he had in his pockets. Urzua also connected Gandara to the initials of a tagging crew, "RBK," or "Real Bombing Kings."

Urzua contacted Saguaro National Park and a joint investigation was launched.

A special agent with the National Park Service spoke to Gandara's mother, who had signed in at the park's visitor center on the day the vandalism occurred. In a subsequent interview with the mother, the special agent learned Gandara had joined her on the hike.

She told the special agent that on the way up the trail, Gandara and her now 13-year-old son lagged behind and she lost sight of them for several minutes, the TPD report stated.

In late July, the National Park Service special agent and Urzua conducted a joint interview with the teen and his father.

"Gandara admitted to doing all of the graffiti that involved the moniker 'SOMA' and 'RBK,' " the police report stated. "He said that his mother was not aware that he was tagging, and he said he was the only one who tagged. He said he hid the spray can in his waistband so his mother wouldn't notice."

Urzua showed him photos of 140 locations around the city where the SOMA moniker had been painted since October 2010. Gandara admitted to painting all but two or three of the tags, the officer said.

It has cost the city about $3,600 to clean up SOMA tags, according to Graffiti Protective Coatings, the company contracted by the city to clean up vandalism in Tucson.

During the interview, Gandara admitted he'd been tagging since he was 10 years old.

Gandara now faces two counts of felony vandalism - one for the Saguaro Park graffiti, the other for one incident of graffiti in the city. Because he is a juvenile, Gandara cannot be charged in federal court.

Copyright 2014 Arizona Daily Star. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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