By Maria Cramer Globe Staff / September 27, 2009
When graffiti artist Shepard Fairey was arrested for vandalism in February, the charges sparked furious debate around Boston about the sometimes blurry line between art and crime.
At about the same time, and with considerably less fanfare, another graffiti case was playing out in the courts. Danielle Bremner, a 24-year-old New Yorker, was charged with 13 counts of vandalism and defacing property for spray painting her moniker, “Utah,’’ in the Back Bay and East Boston.
Last week she pleaded guilty to the charges, and on Thursday she is expected to be sentenced to six months in jail, a sentence prosecutors said is extremely rare but just.
“In most cases we try to use finan cial restitution as a deterrent,’’ said Jake Wark, spokesman for Suffolk District Attorney Daniel F. Conley. “There are some cases, however, in which the damage is so extensive and so egregious that it requires incarceration. Financial deterrence simply is not enough sometimes.’’
But other attorneys and artists blasted the decision as draconian.
“I think it is really high time that our society rethink whether it’s humane to put a person in a cage for painting on a wall,’’ said Jeffrey Wiesner, a Boston lawyer who represented Fairey on his charges. “If someone is a danger, placing them in prison is justified, not when what they do is merely a nuisance.’’
Prosecutors said Bremner spray painted her moniker, a practice known as tagging, in alleyways behind Newbury Street and on trains at the rail yards in Orient Heights in 2006 and 2007.
Bremner was recently released from Rikers Island after serving most of a six-month sentence for graffiti charges out of New York.
Wark said she probably will be sentenced to the South Bay House of Correction.
Bremner could not be reached for comment Friday, and her lawyer, William Keefe of Boston, declined to comment.
Boston police declined to comment on the case.
In July, when Fairey pleaded guilty to charges of vandalism for placing stickers of his artwork around Boston, he was ordered to pay $2,000 to a Back Bay neighborhood group and placed on two years’ probation.
Bremner, on top of her sentence, will also have to pay a five-figure settlement to repair the damage.
Wark said Bremner received a tougher sentence in large part because spray paint is more destructive and more expensive to clean up than stickers.
Michael Doolin, a Dorchester defense attorney not involved with the case, said the sentence appears to be fair.
“It may seem like it’s a minor crime, but you have to take into account the repetitive nature of the actions and the extent of the damage,’’ he said.
Several residents in the neighborhoods Bremner marked attended her hearing Thursday at Boston Municipal Court. They have been a steady presence at such court proceedings, waiting patiently for the defendant’s name to be called and rising to their feet in unison when the defendant goes before the judge.
Phil Quartier, a member of the Community Alliance of Mission Hill who was at the hearing, said he is satisfied with the sentence.
“It seems severe,’’ said Quartier. “At the same time, we are determined to send the message to that community, the tagging community, the graffiti community, that it’s not tolerated . . . I feel for this girl to have to face [jail]. It’s horrendous, but that is what we need to do. We need to send a strong message.’’
Roxbury artist Cyrille Conan, who practiced graffiti as a teenager, said few will heed that message.
“There will still be a large percentage of kids doing it,’’ said Conan, now 36. “If anything, it’s going to up the ante for your street cred. I can see how people would think it’s [a nuisance]. But it can’t be stopped. It’s a part of urban culture everywhere.’’