Saturday, 2:15 PM
Defense lawyer: Police seeking 31 more charges against Shepard Fairey
By Brian R. Ballou and Andrew Ryan, Globe Staff
Boston police are pursuing 31 new vandalism charges against Shepard Fairey, including allegations that stem from posters of his iconic image of President Obama hung on properties in Allston, according to the artist's defense attorney.
Police filed two complaints today before a magistrate in a closed-door hearing in Brighton District Court, according to attorney Jeffrey P. Wiesner. A detective working the case also indicated during the hearing that police plan to apply for 29 additional charges against Fairey in Roxbury District and Boston Municipal courts.
"I've never seen less credible evidence presented for a criminal charge,'' Wiesner said today in a telephone interview after the hearing in Brighton.
A spokeswoman for the Boston Police Department did not immediately provide details when asked this afternoon about the new charges.
Fairey spent 90 minutes inside Brighton District Court this morning for a hearing to show cause, which is closed to the public. He refused to speak to reporters after the hearing, but later released a statement that said he was not involved with "illegally posting" his artwork, which is "widely available on the Internet."
"I can only assume that the gratuitous piling on of felony charges by the Boston Police is related to my long-standing advocacy as an ARTIST for the idea that public visual space should be filled with more than just commercial advertising," Fairey said.
The 39-year-old Los Angeles resident gained fame for creating the "Hope" poster of Obama, which now hangs in the National Portrait Gallery in Washington. Boston police arrested him last month, pulling over his taxicab as the artist was on his way to the opening of his exhibit at the Institute of Contemporary Art in South Boston.
Fairey's other recognizable work include black and white "Obey Giant" stencils, which are based on images of professional wrestler Andre the Giant. The stencils began appearing on buildings and overpasses about two decades ago.
The two charges filed today in Brighton stem from allegations that Fairey posted an Obey Giant poster on a railroad trestle over Storrow Drive and put up numerous Obama posters in Allston, near Brighton Avenue, from Nov. 25 to Dec. 25 of last year, according to Wiesner, his defense attorney.
"Police submitted a report and testified regarding what evidence they had,'' Wiesner said today in the telephone interview. "Their fundamental premise is that the posters are out there, and Mr. Fairey must have put them up because they're his.''
Police admitted in testimony today before the magistrate that they had no eyewitnesses or surveillance video of Fairey putting up posters, Wiesner said.
Fairey also had a hearing today in Brighton that stemmed from a charge filed in September 2000, when he was accused of posting graffiti on an electrical box in Allston. That case was continued until April 14.
Fairey has another hearing on Wednesday for allegedly defacing Massachusetts Turnpike Authority property at Massachusetts Avenue and Newbury Street on or about Jan. 24.
Aside from criminal charges in Boston, Fairey is also locked in a dispute over his image of President Obama. He acknowledges that the poster was based on an April 2006 photograph taken by Mannie Garcia, a freelance photographer working for The Associated Press. The AP has accused Fairey of copyright infringement and wants compensation. Fairey filed a preemptive suit last month in federal court in New York.
Garcia, who no longer freelances for the AP, recently told the monthly magazine Photo District News that he did not want to fight Fairey over the image.
“I’m concerned about it, but this is a unique situation,” Garcia said. “This is not just some artist who ripped something off."