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Denver Art Museum Vandal Pleads Guilty, No Additional Prison Time

A section of Stampede before the attack.
A section of Stampede before the attack.
Denver Art Museum

Jake Siebenlist, the eighteen-year-old from Monument who did an estimated $96,900 worth of damage to art in the Denver Art Museum's Stampede exhibit on December 9, 2018, pleaded guilty early March 21 to criminal mischief, a class four felony that could have led to six years in prison and a $500,000 fine.

Instead, he walked out of court on a three-year deferred judgment, with an order to check in with a parole officer. He will be on parole through March 17, 2022, and will be required to stay in state through that time, unless he has permission to leave, as he will in May when he travels to North Carolina for his brother's college graduation.

The court ordered Siebenlist to pay back the $96,900; he will ante up $10,000 immediately and $86,900 over the next three years. His attorney told the court that he will be looking for a job.

The attack on the museum took place on the fourth floor of the Hamilton Building, in the Stampede exhibit, which looks at how cultures have viewed animals throughout the centuries.

"Siebenlist was observed by several witnesses and security causing extensive damage to various art sculptures, artifacts and paintings on the fourth floor, proceeded to walk to a glass bonet and pushed the glass structure causing it to fall over and shatter," according to a police report. "Security at the scene tried to gain control of Siebenlist who pushed the museum patrons out of his path, making his way towards other art sculptures and paintings."

"Siebenlist then began to throw numerous sculptures across the room causing them to break and began shattering other art sculptures into the ground," the report continues. "Sciebenlist also tried to damage two paintings that were protected by plastic glass, but was unable to cause any damage to the two paintings. Security at the scene was able to take control of Siebenlist who tried to punch security while he was being restrained."

The pieces that were damaged included "Wolf Headdress Mask," "Raven Rattle Tlingit," "Jaina Style Figurine," "Moche Portrait Bottle," "Chinese Vase with Phoenixes," "Moche Rattle Bowl," "Mayan Fish-Shaped Vessel," "Mayan Vessel with God on Bird," "Chinese Initiator Sculpture," and "Riding to Happiness." Many have been repaired.

Siebenlist's destruction of art, which put museum guards on high alert citywide, raises many questions: Why destroy ancient artifacts? Was it a mental breakdown? Intoxication? A disdain for the exhibit? A grudge against a worker? Nihilistic performance art?

No explanations were forthcoming, as both Siebenlist and his attorney declined to comment on the case. The Denver Art Museum released the following statement:

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"The museum’s focus continues to be to provide safe and world-class exhibition experiences for our visitors.

"A total of 10 artworks from the museum’s collection were compromised in a single 4th floor gallery space, which features objects in the exhibition, Stampede: Animals in Art, including a 19th-century Chinese vase and a Mayan vessel from the Pre-Columbian collection. Affected objects are being evaluated by the Denver Art Museum’s art conservation staff, and specifics about repairs are not yet available.

"The museum’s 4th floor galleries, featuring Stampede: Animals in Art, reopened to the public within days of the incident. Portions of those galleries are now closed for the installation of the next major collection presentation, called The Light Show. Opening June 2, the exhibition features more than 250 objects from the DAM’s own collections and explores physical and symbolic representations of light in art through a thought-provoking narrative."

Update: This story has been updated to include the DAM's statement.

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