A Sonora man was arrested on Sunday morning for defacing a city road sign near the Mono Way and Hospital Road intersection with drug-related iconography, but multiple cases of spray-painted graffiti at Sonora High School, at the historic City Hotel building on South Washington Street, and near the old Visitors Bureau building on Stockton Road remain under investigation.

Sonora Police Chief Turu VanderWiel said spray painting, vandalism and graffiti id a common problem in the city, but an uncommonly difficult crime to solve and prove.

Despite the obstacles, he said, the department is investigating three separate incidents discovered over three consecutive days in early July to determine if the cases are connected or isolated incidents.

“Blight attracts and breeds blight, so you seek to keep your city clean and keep it looking good. It’s a crime deterrent and, naturally, it makes it more popular to visit and live if its not tagged up with graffiti,” he said.

The first of the reports was called in to the Sonora Police Department on July 1 from Sonora High School, where spray-painted graffiti was discovered on windows along the cafeteria and administration building with additional chalk graffiti located throughout the school at the Sonora Aquatics Center, the H Building, and the Fine Arts Auditorium.

Superintendent Pat Chabot said surveillance footage was reviewed, and a group of three minor-aged girls appear to be responsible. The incident happened about 12:30 a.m. July 1. The graffiti was immediately cleaned by the school, he said.

“This is very unique that it would be three girls out doing this in the middle of the night. We don't get much graffiti on our campus, especially from girls,” he said. “We plan on prosecuting to the full extent of the law. We take it very seriously.”

VanderWiel said he had not yet seen the surveillance footage. Chabot said an officer from the department will likely retrieve it sometime in the next few days.

More graffiti was discovered over the next two days.

A tenant from House O’ Beauty, an art gallery and shop on South Washington Street, found silver spray-paint graffiti on doors, stairs and bannisters at the back entrance facing South Stewart Street.

The graffiti appears to read “Home Sweet Home” along a bannister to a stair, a circle pie-shaped icon on a door, and “#1,” “#2” and “Thank you!” on an adjacent door.

There was religious-associated graffiti on a fence and some asphalt near the old Visitors Bureau building on Stockton Road and Ponderosa Drive.

On the fence, a cross with the word “faith” written next to it, and further down the fence the word “spirit” and “Jesus [heart symbol]’s you,” VanderWiel said. On the asphalt were indefinable lettering and symbols, he added. A paper bag with black paint was left at the scene.

“It’s very difficult to connect these incidents. There's no specific moniker we’ve been able to see,” he said.

Vanderwiel said they may be isolated incidents and added that the time of discovery may be nowhere near the time the vandalism was committed.

Before 11 a.m. Sunday, a Tuolumne County Sheriff’s deputy on Mono Way near Hospital Road in Sonora noticed a man tampering with a road sign and attempting to remove the bolts that held the sign in place, Sgt. Andrea Benson said.
The sign was tagged with “420” over a carved “OXY.” To the right of 420 wass the abbreviation “TN,” likely for “tonight,” and to the left was what appeared to be a cross in quotation marks.

“Oxy” is an abbreviation of oxycodone or oxycontin, a pharmaceutical opioid for pain relief. “420” is a common reference to cannabis culture and is associated with the consumption of marijuana.

The sign read “Sanguinetti Road” with a directional arrow pointing to the right.

The man quickly attempted to walk away, but was detained by the deputy.
The man appeared to be under the influence of alcohol, and a breath sample showed his blood alcohol level was 0.82, Benson said.
The man was carrying a 3-inch piece of sharpened metal when he was detained.

Dakota Hanson, 22, was booked into the Tuolumne County Jail on $5,000 bail on suspicion of maliciously defacing with paint, also known as misdemeanor vandalism.

Contact Giuseppe Ricapito at (209) 588-4526 or gricapito@uniondemocrat.com . Follow him on Twitter @gsepinsonora.