Crime Spray

For months, someone had been tagging the city-owned west Denver boxing gym that Mike Quintana runs with his father. So when Quintana heard some kids rattling their spray cans out back one night last October, he grabbed them and called the cops. And just as the kids were about to be taken away, Quintana grabbed one of their paint cans and sprayed them all in the face.

While the teens pleaded guilty to defacing private property and got off with a few days of community service, the thirty-year-old Quintana was charged with misdemeanor assault. He has pleaded not guilty and now faces a jury trial in a city courtroom next month.

"I don't feel I'm guilty," he says. "I'm protecting what is mine. What is ours." He's offended by the idea of pleading guilty--and accepting what would probably amount to a minimal fine and probation. So he's prepared to go before a jury to try to prove he's right.

On October 30, Quintana arrived at his Sloan Lake Boxing Club at 5:30 p.m., half an hour before anyone usually shows up. He saw a Subaru pulling into the drive off of West 17th Avenue but thought nothing of it as he began to sweep the ring, vacuum the floors and clean the bags. He also tested the end-of-round bell, which makes a loud noise.

That apparently didn't scare the taggers. As he was cleaning up, Quintana heard kids shaking cans on the other side of the wall. He tore out the front of the building and ran around to the back.

"What the hell are you doing?" he asked them.
At that, he says, the kids dumped their spray cans and ran toward Sheridan Boulevard. Quintana went to their car and waited for them to come back. He didn't have to wait long. When they returned, Quintana recalls, the biggest of the three kids challenged him by saying, "What the fuck you gonna do?" Duck, actually, to avoid a punch--then follow up with a left. That sent the big kid to the ground. Good thing, as Quintana later points out: "If he had hit me, it'd be lights out for me."

The other kids didn't know what to do, Quintana says, and as he grabbed the big kid by his shirt collar and led him inside, they followed. He called 911 and, during an exchange of epithets, told the boys, "Ain't none of you punks gonna get out the door."

Quintana later said, "They were gonna have to stab me, shoot me, whatever--they weren't getting out of this room."

Police eventually arrived. A boxer also showed up, and Quintana sent him around back to find the spray cans. He returned with two.

The cops began questioning the kids, but Quintana says he was still "pissed, not thinking." So he asked the kids how they would like it if he tagged their place. He says one of them replied, "I'll fucking kill you if you do."

And then Quintana lost it. He grabbed one of the cans from the boxer and sprayed all the kids' faces at close range. One of the cops "had a smirk on his face," recalls Quintana, but the other was miffed. (Neither officer returned calls from Westword.)

"'You can't do that,'" Quintana recalls one of the officers saying. "'Now I'll have to take you in.' And I said, 'Good. Put me in the same cell as them. Let's go.'"

Instead, Quintana was issued a citation. But he still thinks the system is sending the wrong message: "Is that what they're saying? You can do this building and have fun?"

Denver police detective Ray Ruybal, who works graffiti cases, agrees that taggers usually just go through the revolving door. "Kids are pretty smart today," Ruybal says. "They know that nothing gets done to them. What are we gonna do with these kids? We can't spank 'em, we can't lock 'em up unless they really do something bad. They know 'I'm not gonna get hurt, so yell at me, send me back on the street, and I'll do it again.'"

The kids are back on the street, and Quintana and his father, Mike Sr., are still trying to sort things out while awaiting Mike Jr.'s court date. "What makes a difference if this does go on his record?" asks Mike Sr. "Where's the three guys who spray-painted our building? Where's their record?"

Ruybal says the kids, all first-time offenders and juveniles, pleaded guilty to damaging private property and possessing graffiti materials. He adds that first-time offenders usually perform three days of community service, going into neighborhoods they've tagged and cleaning up graffiti. That constitutes their fine. After all, he says, "most of the time, they don't have any money."

Quintana has been running the gym for the last few years to help his father, who's in need of a heart transplant. A former gun club, the gym is located in an adobe-style building on the southwestern side of Sloan Lake Park. Mike Sr. has been renting the facility from the City of Denver for $1 a year since 1988.

The gym is run-down: Many of the bathroom fixtures don't work, punching bags have holes in them, and a crew is coming out next week to fix the ceiling, which sags in several places. A tour around the back of the sand-colored building shows that large patches of the walls have been repainted a darker shade to cover up graffiti.

Taggers have nailed Quintana's gym several times since last summer. There's one indecipherable sign painted on the dumpster out front. Quintana doesn't know if it's from the same kids, and he says he doesn't care.

"This building does not say 'Paint me,'" Quintana says. "You see all this graffiti, and it looks rugged. It looks bad."

Mike Sr. says that in years past, police officers were more regular guests, coming in most every evening to watch kids box. There was less trouble then, he says, but the cops changed their shift schedule about nine or ten months ago, and the trouble picked up.

Since the taggings increased, Mike Jr. says, police have been out a few times and have taken a few pictures. Officers did talk to him about installing cameras to catch taggers in the act, but he says he's heard nothing of the proposal since then.

What he does know is that repainting the building will cost $2,000, money he doesn't have. Of course, he doesn't have the money to pay the courts, either.

"I look back on it and admit it was a dumb move," says Quintana. "But I'd do it again. If I end up in jail, I'll be there. You will not come here and destroy my property. I will destroy you.

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T.R. Witcher

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