16-year-old faces felony criminal mischief counts

Section: Capital Region,  Page: B3

Date: Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Correction: On the front page of Tuesday’s Capital Region section, a photograph showed graffiti spray painted on a home in Albany’s Hudson-Park Neighborhood. The caption incorrectly identified the location as Center Square, the adjacent neighborhood that was also hit by graffiti vandals.

ALBANY -- Owners of these bare walls can breathe a little easier.

A 16-year-old Hudson Avenue resident has been charged in connection with a rash of graffiti vandalism in the Center Square and Hudson/Park neighborhoods, capping a months-long tagging spree that sent downtown residents into a fury.

On one oft-tagged garage on Elm Street, one of the teen's alleged signatures was scrawled across three previous paint patches. And according to one investigator, the youth said he did it because he felt stifled.

"This was his way of having fun, I guess," said State Police Investigator Jerome Holland, who landed on the case after 11 incidents of graffiti were reported around Empire State Plaza since Jan. 3. "He's claiming something about that his art class got cut out in school and he had no other way of expressing his inner emotion."

Terrance Kelly -- perhaps better known to his alleged victims as "Ceer" -- was arrested Friday afternoon with two other teenaged boys after city police stopped the trio cutting through an alley around 2:30 p.m.

The three were returning to Kelly's Hudson Avenue home after someone reported vandals defacing a mailbox at Dove and Hamilton streets, police said.

Officers Kevin Meehan and Tracy Condon, it turns out, already had Kelly under surveillance at the time.

The two officers, members of the city's Strategic Deployment Unit, had reason to believe Kelly was responsible for "a majority of graffiti" scrawled on buildings, signs and mailboxes in the area, said Detective James Miller, a police spokesman.

Kelly was charged with vandalizing the Washington Park Lake House in January and questioned but not charged this summer, Miller said.

When officers confronted Kelly at the time, he allegedly had a piece of paper on which were scrawled variations of his tags.

And while that alone was not enough to charge the teen, Miller said police kept the information on file, enabling Meehan and Condon to link it to the recent rash of vandalism. Miller said Kelly has been known to also use the tags "Zemer" and "518."

The heat on Kelly rose even further when troopers began investigating vandalism to stone and marble walls around Empire State Plaza -- damage totalling about $2,500, Holland said.

After his arrest Friday, Kelly led city police to at least six areas he said he was responsible for tagging, Miller said. In all, city police charged him with two counts of felony criminal mischief, six counts of misdemeanor making graffiti and two counts of misdemeanor possession of a graffiti instruments.

He faces an additional felony criminal mischief lodged by troopers, Holland said.

The two other teens -- aged 14 and 15 -- were charged with making graffiti and possession of graffiti instruments only in connection with Friday's incident and turned over to their parents. Their names are not being released because of their ages, Miller said.

A 21-year-old University at Albany student, Wesley Rose, was arrested after allegedly tagging a building on Lark Street early in the morning of Feb. 15, but neighbors suspected that he was not chiefly responsible for the recent blight on neighborhood -- in part because some of the tagging continued.

Common Councilman Richard Conti said his home was tagged the in the middle of the afternoon after Rose was charged. While it's not clear who was responsible for that vandalism, Conti said all the officers involved in the arrests should be commended and the alleged vandals "prosecuted to the fullest extent possible."

Kelly, who police say they suspect is also the culprit in other cases, was arraigned in City Court on Saturday and released on $2,000 bail.