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Vandalism Spree Hits San Diego’s Otay Ranch
The Chula Vista Police Department says that more than 25 vehicles and three homes in Otay Ranch were damaged by vandals last weekend. The damage toll could reach tens of thousands of dollars.
Police report that no suspects have yet been identified in the spree, which they say appears to be a random incident. Damage includes dozens of smashed car windows, and graffiti spray-painted on garage doors, vehicles and sidewalks. The graffiti consisted in some cases of swastikas and drawings of body parts.
The crime of vandalism is defined under section 594(a) of the Penal Code:
“Every person who maliciously commits any of the following acts with respect to any real or personal property not his or her own, in cases other than those specified by state law, is guilty of vandalism:
(1) Defaces with graffiti or other inscribed material.
While certain acts that might constitute vandalism are considered by many to be pranks, the law in California sees it differently, and in some circumstances the offense may be charged as a felony. There are also two aspects of the Otay Ranch vandalism that set it apart from similar cases. First, the extensive amount of damage over a short period of time suggests that it’s something more sinister than childish mischief. Second, and perhaps more significant, the graffiti included drawing swastikas on vehicles and homes; this raises the issue of whether the “mischief” rises to the level of a hate crime.
Under PC 422.55, a “hate crime” is defined as a criminal act (in this case vandalism) committed because of one or more of a series of actual or perceived characteristics of the victim. Those characteristics include the victim’s religion. We do not have sufficient information to determine whether, assuming the claims are true, the Otay Ranch vandalism is or is not a hate crime. If it is, however, the charges against the alleged wrongdoers will carry the possibility of even stiffer penalties, including enhanced sentences.
In the meantime, we will follow this case to see if any suspects are apprehended, and if so, what charges are filed against those alleged to have been responsible.
Law Offices of David Shapiro
3555 4th Avenue
San Diego, CA 92103