Jel Was Here

Jel and Buket laid down hundreds of tags in Denver — but the two renowned members of the TKO crew had to go back to their old stamping grounds in Los Angeles to get caught.

U.S. marshals were skeptical when they received a tip that Candy "Jel" Srichandr, a graffitist with a national reputation who'd been interviewed by several magazines and featured in the book Graffiti Women, could be found in Los Angeles County. They thought the 29-year-old they'd been hunting in connection with a graffiti-related shooting death in L.A. was still hiding out in Colorado. The shooting had been on May 11, 2006, at a tattoo shop in Van Nuys, where members of the MTA crew were holding an art exhibit. When members of TKO showed up, bad blood between the groups boiled over into fistfights, and two gunmen opened fire on the crowd, hitting seven and killing graffiti writer Tony Sena. Facing charges of one count of murder and six counts of attempted murder, Jel took off, starting a twenty-month odyssey through numerous states, with stays in St. Louis and Minneapolis. She continued to tag along the way, until her story was featured on America's Most Wanted in November. Then she headed back to California, and when investigators checked out a Long Beach apartment on February 8, Jel was inside. On July 10, Jel pleaded not guilty. She's now awaiting trial on a $7 million bond, according to Los Angeles Superior Court.

Back in 2003, Jel lived here for almost a year — long enough to be cited for driving without insurance (she never showed up for the court date). And five months after her arrest, her more recent tags can still be seen on the streets of Denver, including one etched with acid into a window near the 1200 block of Lincoln Street.

Police don't think Buket was involved in the shooting, but he, too, spent plenty of time in the Mile High City. His tags can be found on highway signs, rooftops and even across double-decker buses. In May, he was arrested after L.A. sheriff's deputies spotted YouTube videos of a graffiti artist tagging the front of a Hollywood overpass and a city bus in broad daylight, then searched a database to find a 24-year-old named Cyrus Yazdani, who had a prior arrest in the area for tagging Buket. The bust made national news, including blurbs in both of Denver's daily newspapers.

It's not surprising that Buket and Jel wound up in Denver. In this city, high-profile prosecutions of taggers are virtually non-existent. That's why so many big-name artists set up shop here.

The Denver District Attorney's Office handled 68 graffiti cases in 2007, all juvenile, according to spokeswoman Lynn Kimbrough. Los Angeles County, on the other hand, files thousands of cases every year against accused taggers. Last year, more than thirty defendants received several months (at least) of jail time, and one man is facing thirty years in prison as a serial graffiti vandal. "We have a lot of arrests," says Jacquelyn Lacey, a district attorney in Los Angeles. The L.A. Police Department doesn't have a unit devoted specifically to graffiti; instead, the department has trained front-line officers to investigate graffiti patterns. "They're not that hard to solve when you think about it," she notes. "The whole purpose of graffiti is to gain notoriety for someone who's, you know, not very famous."

Even so, Lacey criticizes L.A.'s criminal-justice system for not taking graffiti seriously enough. "Many judges feel like it's more of a prank as opposed to harm on a community, so they treat it like that," she says. But prosecution is significantly aided by police experts who tie instances of vandalism together in court testimony. "It's really just about old-fashioned policing, doing the legwork, getting out there and finding that stuff," she says.

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Jared Jacang Maher