Prosecutor drops vandalism charges against serial graffiti artist at UW

Anthony Gockowski
Investigative Reporter

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  • Dane County District Attorney Ismael Ozanne dropped 11 charges of vandalism against UW student Denzel McDonald Tuesday following protests against his arrest
  • Ozanne said McDonald was just trying to "exercise his First Amendment rights," and now understands why his actions were wrong
  • Despite his previous conviction for graffiti vandalism, Ozanna predicts "we will not see the same activity again" out of McDonald
  • A University of Wisconsin-Madison student accused of 11 counts of vandalism and violently intimidating a bystander will not be charged for his actions, a county prosecutor announced Tuesday.

    Student Denzel McDonald, an alleged vandal accused of spray painting dozens of buildings on campus and costing the university $4,000 in repairs, was arrested outside of his classroom last month on suspicion of the charges.

    "It was clear he understood the seriousness of his behavior and that although he was trying to exercise his First Amendment rights, the way he went about it affected the impact of his message."   

    “Fuck the police,” “White supremacy iz a dizeaze,” “Death to the pigz,” and “The Devil iz a white man,” were just a few of the many messages McDonald painted on the walls of his school.

    Campus police had spent weeks attempting to contact McDonald, but all phone calls and even several home visits went unanswered, according to a police report. Consequently, police were forced to locate McDonald in a classroom, apprehending him outside of the building to minimize the spectacle.

    [RELATED: UW students hold protest in honor of alleged vandal]

    Shortly after, the UW Madison Police Department passed the case on to the local prosecutor’s office, recommending appropriate charges for McDonald.

    Yet Dane County District Attorney Ismael Ozanne decided to disregard the recommendation Tuesday, just days after hundreds of students staged a walkout on campus demanding the complete dismissal of the investigation into McDonald’s case. Ozanne, however, insists that the student demands had nothing to do with his decision.

    [RELATED: UW Madison students deface Lincoln statue with list of demands]

    “I make a lot of decisions, some are popular and some are not,” Ozanne told The Cap Times. “I look at the evidence and make a determination on what is best.”

    McDonald’s contrition, apparently, is what swayed Ozanne to drop the case, as she asserted that McDonald “understood the seriousness of his behavior.”

    Additionally, Ozanne stated the McDonald was simply “trying to exercise his First Amendment rights” when he vandalized the campus police department office with spray-painted death threats.

    “When I and a deputy met with McDonald and his attorney, it was clear he understood the seriousness of his behavior and that although he was trying to exercise his First Amendment rights, the way he went about it affected the impact of his message,” Ozanne said.

    Ozanne said he’s hopeful he “will not see the same activity again” from McDonald, even though McDonald had pled guilty to a separate citation for graffiti over a year ago.

    “I think a majority of people in our community want someone to accept responsibility and to do something to create positive change in an individual so hopefully we will not see the same activity again,” Ozanne said, before adding that he was aware of McDonald’s prior conviction.

    McDonald has been referred to a local restorative justice program, successful completion of which will result in no prosecution and no entry of the case in the state’s online court system records.

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    Anthony Gockowski

    Anthony Gockowski

    Investigative Reporter

    Anthony Gockowski is an Investigative Reporter for Campus Reform. He has previously worked for The Daily Caller, Intercollegiate Review, and The Catholic Spirit.

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