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Punishment expected for urban tagger

“BONX,” one of the most prolific and notorious urban graffiti taggers in Buffalo is busted, and his critics are delighted.

Now they want to see the 22-year-old Town of Boston man convicted and punished the same way another notorious tagger, “BCUZ,” was punished two years ago.

If that happens, Nathaniel J. Parsons could be cleaning up graffiti for several years. Richard Whitefield of Buffalo is still painting over graffiti on walls nearly two years after he was caught.

“I’m thrilled because if they didn’t get him, I was going to,” said James T. Sandoro, owner of the Buffalo Transportation/Pierce-Arrow Museum, who lives on Myrtle Avenue at the edge of downtown and owns several commercial buildings. “I was laying in wait with my security cameras. I also tend not to sleep a lot, and you never know when I’m up. I live right here, and this is my neighborhood.”

Police Commissioner Daniel Derenda said he wants more than just community service for Parsons.

“He deserves jail time. The damage he’s done is probably up into the tens of thousands of dollars,” Derenda said.

When Parsons was caught by a Norfolk Southern Railroad police officer Thursday evening, he quickly admitted he was “BONX.” So fast that Matt Galas, the officer, asked why he was being so cooperative.

“He stated the game was over since he got caught,” Galas wrote in his arrest report.

That reaction did not surprise Sam Lunetta, coordinator of the Regional Anti-Graffiti Task Force of Buffalo.

“It’s typical of the culture of graffiti. They love that high-risk activity,” Lunetta said. “Sooner or later they mess up. They just get so bold.”

Galas spotted Parsons at about 6 p.m. Thursday beside a bridge abutment beneath a South Park Avenue overpass near Smith Street, apparently admiring his work. One of the “BONX” tags he had painted in red and yellow was 10 feet by 5 feet.

“I can’t believe this kid’s arrogance,” said Lt. Steve Nichols, a community policing supervisor and member of the task force, who was disturbed that Parsons viewed his activities as game. “He’s done thousands of dollars worth of damage.”

If Galas had arrived a little earlier, he would have caught the lanky 6-foot, 4-inch, 185-pound Parsons sending a love note of sorts to his girlfriend during a break from scrawling different versions of “BONX.”

Police said he had painted a heart shape and inside it sprayed the words “I love you.” He then took a photograph of it with his cell phone and texted it to his girlfriend.

Parsons, who is employed as a laborer, was charged with criminal mischief, making graffiti and possession of graffiti tools – gloves, spray paint cans and a drawing of his tag on a sheet of paper.

In an apparent effort to cover his tracks, Parsons told Galas that he had left his car in a parking lot blocks away at Swan and Washington streets and rode a skateboard to the South Buffalo railroad yard.

Lunetta, a retired SUNY Buffalo State police lieutenant, said Parsons also was responsible for graffiti in the Southtowns, but by last summer had ventured from his home turf into downtown Buffalo.

“He was trying to get street credibility,” Lunetta said. “He went into an area with a lot of tags. He hit up the downtown area pretty good. With patience, we were watching and hoping he would surface again.”

In confessing to Galas, a special agent with the railroad, Parsons said he took a break from tagging after The Buffalo News published a story in late August stating police and businessmen were on the lookout for the person responsible for spray painting downtown brick buildings, some of which were historic.

Those who are battling graffiti, which they say is more accurately described as vandalism, have found new and more elaborate versions of “BCUZ” have started appearing on buildings throughout the city.

Authorities say they do not know who is responsible, but Sandoro has a working theory.

“They are copycats trying to discredit Richard Whitefield. They feel he is not up to their standards. I believe Richard is cleaning up his act and not doing these new ones,” Sandoro said. “He’s doing his community service, painting over his old tags and other people’s tags.”

Joyce M. Emke, security program manager at Buffalo Place, said she was impressed that Parsons confessed right away.

“He was honest and admitted what had done. Hopefully, we’ll be able to get a lot of community service out of him in the form of removing his graffiti and even more,” Emke said, adding that each vandal’s tag has a special meaning.

Whitefield, she said, never revealed the meaning behind “BCUZ,” only that it represented a form of expression for him.

And so far, Parsons has not revealed what “BONX” means.

Mayor Byron W. Brown said the arrest is a step toward improving the overall quality of life in the city. And he also hopes that if Parsons is convicted, he is ordered to paint over his graffiti and the graffiti of others “just like the BCUZ tagger is still doing since his arrest.”

Sandoro said most of the taggers come in from the suburbs thinking that they can get away with their illegal activities more easily in the city.

This arrest, he said, should send a message that they cannot come to Buffalo “with immunity and get away with it.”

Parsons was arraigned in Buffalo City Court on Friday and released on $1,000 bail.

But his criminal case may be just the beginning of his legal problems.

Sandoro, also a member of the Anti-Graffiti Task Force, outlined what Parsons and other taggers will face:

“I and other residents and businessmen plan to sue him and other vandals in civil lawsuits for tens of thousands of dollars of damages. We’re going to get judgments against them and garnish their wages and have the sheriff confiscate their cars.”

email: lmichel@buffnews.com