Dependents ordered back to U.S. over gang graffiti at Vogelweh
January 25, 2009
KAISERSLAUTERN, Germany — Two teenaged Army dependents have been ordered back to the States for vandalizing a U.S. Air Force base with gang-related graffiti on New Year’s Eve, an Air Force official said Friday.
Two other teens involved in the incident, which resulted in at least $5,000 worth of damage at a new military housing area within sight of Kaiserslautern High School on the Vogelweh installation, received lesser punishments from a civilian misconduct board handling the case.
"One will be getting fairly significant community service hours," said Air Force Col. Don Bacon, commander of the 435th Air Base Wing at Ramstein Air Base, Germany.
Another was informed of his punishment Friday, and has three days to appeal the decision, "so I don’t feel like it would be appropriate right now to mention" the decision until the punishment is finalized, Bacon said.
Three of the teens are minors and students at Department of Defense Dependents Schools in the Kaiserslautern area, according to a DODDS-Europe spokesperson. The other is a DODDS graduate. One of the perpetrators was an Air Force dependent; the rest were Army dependents, Bacon said.
The graffiti, painted in black spray paint on buildings and retaining walls, depicted signs representing at least three different gangs, among them the Latin Kings, Bloods and Gangster Disciples.
Military officials believe the incident was most likely an attempt at imitating gang behavior, and that the teens are not involved in criminal gang activity, such as dealing drugs.
"We don’t think we have a large problem," said Bacon. "What we saw was early indications of this stuff, and we wanted to nip it early."
The Kaiserslautern community has seen more severe forms of gang activity in the past. In 2005, Army Sgt. Juwan Johnson died in his barracks room on Kleber Kaserne after being beaten as part of an initiation into the Gangster Disciples. One of the main Gangster Disciple symbols is the six-pointed star, which was among the symbols painted by the teens.
On Jan. 7, six days after the graffiti was discovered, military police and criminal investigators descended on Kaiserslautern High in an attempt to identify students wearing clothing or bearing other indicators that violated the school’s dress code, and might be gang-related.
No students were detained, but police called some of their parents as part of an "awareness campaign," according to Aaron Schoenfeld, an Air Force spokesman at Ramstein Air Base.
"The following day, on that Thursday, we did have a student come in … and give us enough information that we could go and talk to these kids, and they have admitted to what they did," Bacon said.
The four confessed to the vandalism in sworn statements to Air Force police.
While the gang-related graffiti was nowhere near as serious as the initiation that led to Johnson’s death, John Bowman, a gang investigator with the Killeen, Texas, Police Department, characterized it as "definitely gang related."
"The symbols depicted in the graffiti are Blood symbols, not [Gangster Disciples]," Bowman said. "Notice the six-point star and pitchforks are upside down, which is disrespect, and in essence telling them they are taking over."
Bowman has testified as a gang expert in nearly all of the military courts-martial stemming from Johnson’s death, and was among the speakers at an Army Installation Management Command-Europe gang awareness conference last April. Two months before the conference, three Wiesbaden High School teens ganged up on another student and beat him senseless.
Bacon said he and his Army counterparts were not going to turn a blind eye or give a slap on the wrist for vandalism "or any other activity that makes our KMC community unclean or unsafe."
"The military takes any type of deliberate and malicious destruction or defacement of government property very seriously," Lt. Col. Mechelle B. Hale, commander of U.S. Army Garrison Kaiserslautern, said in a prepared statement e-mailed to Stars and Stripes. "Individuals who are caught causing damage are held accountable for their actions and we do not tolerate this type of behavior in our community."