CRESTVIEW — A 26-year-old man is suspected in connection with graffiti on public and private property, particularly located in the downtown commercial area.
Nikkolas Scott Bennett of Shoal Lake Drive was arrested Aug. 17 after an investigation that included surveillance by special detail officers in unmarked vehicles and reviews of security camera footage that matched photos Bennett allegedly posted to social media.
An arrest is pending for a second suspect who allegedly joined Bennett in a vandalism spree estimated at $4,675 that included businesses in the downtown National Historic Landmark-listed district.
Bennett's arrest brought relief for some downtown merchants and officials.
"The main thing graffiti does is it reflects poorly on a community," Community Redevelopment Area Director Alisa Burleson said. "There's a place for art and art is a beautiful thing when it's expressed properly. But to put it on a building that it was not meant for disrespects the community and also brings disrespect to the artists. There's a time and place for everything."
Several residents had expressed alarm that the spray-painted scribbles were gang-related, but while Bennett and the other suspect tried to imitate some gang symbols and signatures, their effort was sloppy, Police Chief Tony Taylor said.
"It was missing key elements" of gang graffiti "tags," Taylor said, referring to graphic imagery gangs use to mark their supposed territory. "I think it is irresponsible to start screaming 'the sky is falling because there's graffiti that's gang-related' when it isn't," he said. "What these young men did was not gang-related."
Taylor praised residents and business owners who worked with investigators to identify the suspects, including sharing security camera video.
"We thank the public for their cooperation with this investigation," Taylor said. "This is just the sort of public/law enforcement cooperation we encourage."
Bennett was charged on one felony count of criminal mischief with damage greater than $1,000. He was released from Okaloosa County Jail Aug. 18 on $2,500 bond.
"Now we can move forward and start cleaning it up," Burleson said.