Las Vegas Sun

July 29, 2021

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Law Enforcement:

Police: Ancient Red Rock art vandalized for ‘shock value’

Red Rock

Courtesy Friends of Red Rock Canyon

Damage is shown after vandals used spray paint on historic rock art panels at Red Rock Canyon.

Click to enlarge photo

Damage is shown after vandals used spray paint on historic rock art panels at Red Rock Canyon.

Metro Police said ancient art vandalized at the Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area was probably targeted because of the high-profile nature of the damage.

Police have identified more than 500 different tagging crews in Las Vegas — gangs of graffiti vandals — but they frequently change their names so it's difficult to say how many are active at any given time, said Detective Scott Black, of Metro's graffiti section in the gang crimes bureau.

"The motivation that the graffiti vandals have is to cause extremely destructive damage," he said. "They like a lot of shock value. While they go around and tag light posts and powers boxes, if they tag more high-profile locations, it does increase their status."

Given that mindset, police believe the Red Rock Canyon area was a planned target of the tagging crew.

Police enlisted the help of the U.S. Marshal's Service on Wednesday to find the 17-year-old allegedly responsible for the Red Rock graffiti in late November. He has been charged with placing graffiti with a gang enhancement, a felony that carries a possible five-year jail sentence and a fine up to $100,000, authorities said.

Black described the suspect as a "very prominent graffiti vandal," who had been hiding in the Las Vegas Valley as word spread that police were looking for him.

The suspect, who wasn't attending school, used the graffiti moniker "Pee Wee" in various spellings, Black said. Police previously said the graffiti was associated with a local gang sometimes referred to as the “Nasty Habits Crew.”

Erika Schumacher, chief ranger with the Bureau of Land Management, said officials are educating the public about the importance and delicacy of the ancient art and natural land formations found in the conservation area in the wake of the vandalism.

"We are still processing the scene to determine what value of destruction has occurred out there," she said.

The Red Rock art panels — varying in size from 3-by-6 feet to 8-by-9 feet — were covered with maroon spray paint. The vandalism happened in the Willow Spring/Lost Creek area, officials said.

The panels included pictographs, paintings and drawings on rock, and petroglyphs, which are drawings scraped and ground onto the surface of the rock. All were severely damaged, officials said.

The drawings could date back to A.D. 1000 and were probably made by prehistoric archaeological cultures that lived in the area, such as the Virgin Anasazi or the Paiute.

The Bureau of Land Management previously estimated the restoration would cost about $10,000. The vandalism is the most severe case in Red Rock in the past several years.

If people see suspicious activity, Schumacher said they should contact the visitor center at Red Rock Canyon National Conservation area or call Crime Stoppers.

Police said Nevada law allows them to arrest a suspected graffiti vandal for a felony if evidence exists of a continued pattern of crime, such as small graffiti scenes over time.

"This is not a very good city to be a tagger in," Black said. "We are going to find you and we are going to arrest you."

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