Lawsuit targets graffiti artists

Each evening, he sits inside, listening, hearing sounds outside, running out of the building to see if he can catch them scrawling and painting on the brick.

He and Stan Mobley have made that building -- built in 1906 and named The Roane – their home since 1993.

That’s also how long they’ve been cleaning up graffiti after taggers strike.

“It’s been a constant battle of: you clean it up, it goes back up, you clean it up, it goes back up,” Mobley said.

MacDonald and Mobley as well as Jenkins Metal & Supply are suing a group of graffiti taggers – including two well-known street artists -- and a skateboard and clothing company, asking for $1 million in punitive damages. The claims include intentional destruction of property and emotional distress, according to the suit, filed Friday in Fulton County State Court.

“We’re doing this out of desperation,” Mobley said. “We don’t know what else to do.”

Atlanta’s attitude toward graffiti can vary from disgust to acceptance.  Some neighborhoods, including Little 5 Points, Cabbagetown and East Atlanta Village are known – famously or not -- for their graffiti, which ranges from bright murals to streetnames – or tags – scrawled on the side of buildings, Dumpsters and street signs.

It’s usually the later that draws ire from some residents, including Mobley and MacDonald, who say they have spent countless hours and thousands of dollars removing spraypainted names, such as “Arms” and “Enzo” from the side of their building, which is in the Martin Luther King Historic District.

The following people are named in the suit: Seth Berman, known as Sethafari; Graham Bickerstaff, known as NOPE; Douglas Alexander Brewer, known as “Hense” and “Sever;” Matthew Jordan, “MATH;” Graem Kinsella, known as “GHOST,” “Ghose” or “Gose;” Greg Mike and his business, the ABV Agency and Gallery; Grant Taylor, “GNAR.”

MacDonald, Mobley and Jenkins Metal also are suing Berman’s business, Fat Cat Clothing; Grant Taylor’s LLC; Stratosphere Skateboards Inc., an unnamed defendant whose streetname is “Ola Bad” and 25 additional unnamed defendants known only by their tags.

The AJC has contacted or attempted to contact most of the people or businesses named in the lawsuit. Those who have been contacted, including Brewer and Kinsella, denied any connection with doing any graffiti damage or being on the Jenkins Metal property; the owner of Stratsophere Skateboards referred all questions to an attorney.

Graham Bickerstaff and Grant Taylor are professional skateboarders. Taylor has a contract with Nike and has been on the cover of Thrasher, a skateboarding magazine. The lawsuit claims Taylor "has been vandalizing buildings in the Old Fourth Ward, the Atlanta area, private buildings, street signs, concrete retaining walls and public and private property since his teens." Bickerstaff "has engaged in property destruction and defacement throughout the City of Atlanta and Old Fourth Ward for the past five to ten years," the lawsuit claims.

The lawsuit claims “Hense has vandalized government buildings, state highways, railroad cars, and private buildings, including the ones owned by the plaintiffs above." Contacted by the AJC Friday Alex Brewer denied that he was Hense. "I'm a commissioned artist," Brewer said.

Mobley, MacDonald and Jenkins Metal are being represented by neighbor Terry Jackson, a lawyer who decided to figure out who’s behind the graffiti when another building in the Old Fourth Ward got tagged a couple of years ago.

Jackson said he found Grady High School books, notebooks and sketch pads near the building.

The notebook, full of assignments, AP course descriptions and notes, educated him on something else, Jackson said: the graffiti tags and the students behind them: “Math,” “Gnar” and “Fat Cat.”

Jackson said he filed a report with the school and the police officer assigned there.

The “Math,” and “Gnar” tags have showed up on MacDonald’s and Mobley’s building as well as Jenkins Metal “so many times over the years, they’ve lost count,” the lawsuit says. Other frequent tags include “Vomet,” and “Ono.”

“The stress and strain of this has been tremendous. It’s tens of thousands of dollars in costs in damages,” MacDonald said. “The cost emotionally, and stress-wise, I can’t begin to imagine what it has cost emotionally”

MacDonald and Mobley got so frustrated with trying to remove the graffiti from their building that they painted over the brick, about 7 feet high, so when the building was tagged again, they could just paint over it.

“We ideally would be able to paint with the same color over and over,” Mobley said.

That was until a poster, resembling a mouth outlined by a light blue square, showed up.

The Loudmouth posters, from Atlanta artist Greg Mike, can be seen all over town. Mike markets and sells them, along with cans and t-shirts.

Mike started the ABV Agency & Gallery and participated in the “Living Walls” conference -- a grassroots meeting on street art and urbanism -- last summer. His colorful art appeared on a community-backed mural on DeKalb Avenue.

None of that mattered to Mobley and MacDonald, who spent four hours scraping the two posters off of the side of their building.

“It was scrubbing, scraping, scrubbing, scraping, and the glue was still there,” Mobley said.

Mobley said he recognized the Loudmouth posters because he walks by Mike’s office at StudioPlex every day. He and MacDonald put the scraps of what were the two posters inside a small plastic bag and headed over to Studioplex.

Even though it was a Sunday, Mike was there. The three chatted about the Loudmouth posters and how much they retail. When MacDonald put the plastic bag of what was now water-soaked, mangled paper on his desk, Mike denied he was behind it. Eventually he told Mobley and MacDonald he chose their building – because there was already graffiti there.

It was the word “Math.”

“This has gone on year in,  year out, in the middle of the night, 4 a.m., somebody’s up on the fire escape. Is it a burglar,  is it a home invasion, or is it somebody wanting to spray (graffiti) down the side of the building?” MacDonald said.

“We’ve been through the redevelopment of this neighborhood, the revitalization, we’ve organized a neighborhood association, we’ve shut down a big drug operation, we stuck our neck out in a lot of different ways, we helped close down a liquor store that was out of control, but make a dent in this? No. It’s only gotten worse.

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