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ATK graffiti crew faces felony charges

Lawton_It took hundreds of man hours, interviews and paperwork to investigate a Lawton graffiti gang.  And, it's now in the hands of prosecutors who say they will file charges in more than thirty cases as early as tomorrow.  7News has been following the ATK graffiti crew's work since May when police say they hit the historic Fairmont Creamery.  Since that time investigators have linked the spray paint vandals to more than 50 graffiti crimes totaling more than $80,000 in damage.

Prosecutors charged Michael Merritt with malicious injury to property in September and now four more people face charges for the felony crime.  Police say SES, NATL, ATK, TIFF, and JESS are just some of the monikers the ATK crew spray painted all over town - including the I-44 tri level just south of Cache Road.

"It was a quite lengthy investigation almost to the point of a 3 inch, 3 ringer binder type deal," says Deputy Chief James Apple.  That binder now sits on the desk of Comanche County Assistant District Attorney Eddie Valdez.  In it are about 40 police reports containing statements from property owners, pictures of graffiti on their buildings and fences and interviews from the suspects.

"Not only is it to the public just an eyesore, but it is a felony crime," says Apple.  And Valdez says it sends vandals a message.  "Tagging these buildings, that what they are doing is clearly wrong," he says.  "Even though it's not violent in nature, the damage they're causing is just insurmountable."

In at least eight of the reports, the damage exceeded $10,000 which is where the felony charges come in.  Each of the five crew members faces one count and it could be worse.  "They're looking at having up to 30 counts filed on each one of them," says Valdez.  But, more than anything, police and prosecutors want the crew to pay for damage and the price to clean it up.

In some cases, like the Fairmont Creamery, it's impossible.  "That can never be restored that will never be able to be restored to its original shape, and it's going to be quite an expense to even begin to get there," says Valdez. 

Charges will be filed as early as Thursday and prosecutors are still going through damage reports to divide up the dollar amount for restitution.  Although $80,000 is the estimated amount of the damage, police say it will likely cost two to three times that amount to pay for labor and supplies to clean up the graffiti - and Lawton taxpayers may end up paying for damage done to state property.

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