Man arrested after another swastika, anti-gay slur appear on Midtown’s rainbow crosswalk

Atlanta police Lt. Z. Kramer looks over the latest defacing of the rainbow crossing at 10th Street and Piedmont Avenue early Friday morning.

Credit: John Spink / John.Spink@ajc.com

Credit: John Spink / John.Spink@ajc.com

Atlanta police Lt. Z. Kramer looks over the latest defacing of the rainbow crossing at 10th Street and Piedmont Avenue early Friday morning.

Two days after what appeared to be a swastika was scrubbed off the iconic rainbow crosswalk in Midtown Atlanta, another similar symbol appeared Friday morning.

Atlanta police discovered the symbol as well as a curse word and an anti-gay slur spray-painted at 10th Street and Piedmont Avenue, where the rainbow display has become an emblem of pride for the city’s LGBTQ community.

Investigators believe the same man spray-painted a swastika and other graffiti at the nearby Federal Reserve building on Peachtree Street overnight, according to interim police Chief Darin Schierbaum. A man of similar description was seen on security cameras at both locations shortly before 2 a.m., he said.

One side of a stone marker at the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta was scrubbed clean of graffiti on Friday morning, while the other was covered by paper during an investigation into overnight vandalism at the federal building and the nearby rainbow crosswalk in Midtown Atlanta.

Credit: John Spink / John.Spink@ajc.com

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Credit: John Spink / John.Spink@ajc.com

The suspect, 30-year-old Jonah Sampson, was taken into custody several hours later following a SWAT standoff at a Midtown apartment.

Around noon, investigators went to Solace apartments along Third and Peachtree streets and attempted to make contact with Sampson. The SWAT team was eventually called in when those attempts soured.

At some point, Sampson notified authorities that he was exiting the apartment building, police said in a statement, and he was taken into custody without incident. He was charged with three counts of second-degree criminal damage to property, criminal trespass and interference with government property, online records show.

Schierbaum said Sampson is also suspected in Wednesday’s act of vandalism, which was quickly cleaned off the crosswalks by crews with the city’s Department of Transportation. Earlier Friday, surveillance footage was circulated by the police department in an effort to identify the person responsible.

“This is an unacceptable act in this city, anywhere in this city or in any form where citizens are targeted by hate,” the chief said.

Credit: Atlanta Police Department

Since Wednesday, Schierbaum said officers in the city’s Zone 5 have increased their patrols at the crosswalks and have been closely monitoring security cameras installed in the area. The police department is investigating the acts as hate crimes.

“When you have a swastika, when you have homophobic graffiti, of course it’s a hate crime,” the chief said. “The motivation is to intimidate. The motivation is to spread hate, and this city doesn’t have any room for hate, and this police department doesn’t tolerate hate.”

Interim Atlanta police Chief Darin Schierbaum (right) stands with officers at the rainbow crosswalk at 10th Street and Piedmont Avenue after it was vandalized again Friday morning. Schierbaum said police are investigating the act as a hate crime.

Credit: John Spink / John.Spink@ajc.com

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Credit: John Spink / John.Spink@ajc.com

Workers with the Midtown Alliance coalition had cleaned the graffiti by 7:30 a.m. Friday.

Four blocks south, the St. Mark United Methodist Church, which describes itself as LGBTQ-friendly, was also the target of vandalism this week. The church was informed by police that the person who defaced the crosswalk Wednesday was the same who threw bricks at the church’s windows, Channel 2 Action News reported.

In a post on Facebook, the church said the incident took place shortly after they reinstalled their Pride flag, with the person responsible yelling hurtful language. The plexiglass covering the windows protected the church from any damage.

The church sent out a message to the person responsible for the vandalism.

“We love you and God loves you in spite of the harm you are seeking to do. We will continue to live the truth of God’s love for all of our siblings,” the church said in a Facebook post.

The rainbow intersection was damaged multiple times by skid marks from street racing in February, resulting in metal plates being installed in the area. Recently, a signal was installed to test diagonal pedestrian crossing at the intersection, which is scheduled to be in place through Aug. 29.

The crosswalks were installed for Atlanta Pride in 2015. In 2017, a year after the Pulse Nightclub shooting in Orlando, Florida, former Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed announced that the rainbow crosswalks would become permanent in recognition of the contributions of the city’s LGBTQ community.

Jonathan Hurst with Midtown Alliance pressure washes spray paint from the rainbow crosswalk at 10th Street and Piedmont Avenue after it was vandalized early Friday morning.

Credit: John Spink / John.Spink@ajc.com

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Credit: John Spink / John.Spink@ajc.com

— Staff writer Jozsef Papp contributed to this article.