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Date of Issue: October 25, 2007

Police arrest juvenile for skate park, sign vandalism

Holmes Beach police arrested a juvenile for a misdemeanor in connection with the Oct. 8 vandalism at the city’s popular skate park on Marina Drive and anti-Semitic graffiti found on street signs.

Authorities also recommended that the state attorney’s office refer several juveniles to teen court, said HBPD Chief Jay Romine. Teen court is a voluntary diversion program intended to offer an alternative to juvenile court proceedings for certain non-violent misdemeanor offenses.

The skate park, 5801 Marina Drive, has been closed since vandals tore down a sign and ripped out a metal safety railing Oct. 8.

The incident prompted city officials to postpone a ceremony naming the park for Pete Lannon, a police officer and school resource officer who died June 1 from cancer.

Holmes Beach police, going on tips supplied to the Manatee County Crime Stoppers hotline, began questioning about a dozen youth soon after the vandalism.

At about the same time, HBPD detective Sgt. Terri Davis began looking into anti-Semitic graffiti painted on street signs near 71st Street and Marina Drive.

Last week, police arrested one male teenager in connection with both the graffiti and the skate park vandalism, said HBPD Lt. Dale Stephenson. It will be up to the state attorney’s office to decide to pursue charges.

Stephenson said as many as 12 juveniles — in middle school and high school — were at the skate park the night of the vandalism.

The leads from Crime Stoppers helped authorities identify some of the youths. Parents also helped with the investigation, bringing their children to the police station to talk with officers.

“Pretty much everybody was cooperative and upset with the circumstances,” Stephenson said.

“We had a lot of tips from the community,” Romine said. “I think this was something that really irritated everybody.”

The chief added, “When you bring (juveniles) in, they talk.”

Stephenson said that as he talked to the youths, all of them male, he reminded them that they forced the postponement of a ceremony honoring Lannon, a man they knew and came to respect at Anna Maria Elementary School.

“I wanted them to know what they did,” he said. “They understood what they did was wrong. Some showed some remorse.”

Stephenson, as he talked with the kids, also encouraged them not to simply follow the crowd. “The city provided something for them that was … out of the ordinary,” he said. “You would think they’d treat it with more respect than they did.

“But there’s a sort of clique here. So I talked to them about not being followers and thinking for themselves. You’ve got to think before you do things.”

HBPD did not publicly identify the Island juveniles because of their ages. Authorities also said the investigation was continuing and more arrests might occur.

“This investigation isn’t closed yet,” said Stephenson.

Vandalism, according to a U.S. Justice Department crime report, is the second most common property crime committed by juveniles. The most common is larceny-theft, followed by vandalism, burglary and motor vehicle theft.

Additionally, numerous U.S. municipalities have experienced vandalism at public skate parks in recent years. In some cases, city officials closed parks. In other cases, video surveillance systems, including Web cameras, were installed.

Holmes Beach Mayor Rich Bohnenberger said a high-tech surveillance system needs to be installed at the Island park before it reopens.

Meanwhile, the police department continued to take calls from skateboarders eager to see the park reopen.

“We’ve gotten a lot of calls from kids who want to skate,” Stephenson said.