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Little Tokyo Mural Tagger Opts to Go to Trial

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The “Home Is Little Tokyo” mural is on Central Avenue and First Street. (MARIO GERSHOM REYES/Rafu Shimpo)

A graffiti vandal believed responsible for defacing a cherished Little Tokyo mural has rejected a plea agreement that would have allowed him to avoid jail time.

The case will now go to trial.

Erick Gomez, identified as one of four taggers that on June 10 vandalized the “Home Is Little Tokyo” mural on Central Avenue, twice failed to appear in court for sentencing on Oct. 30 and Nov. 6, according to Deputy City Attorney Jim McDougal, who is prosecuting the case.

A surveillance camera installed above the mural captured images of the taggers. The other three suspects remain at large.

Gomez currently lives and works in San Francisco. He was apprehended following an extensive investigation by Los Angeles Police Department Senior Lead Officer Adrian Lopez.

The original plea deal sentenced Gomez to three years of summary probation and 30 days of community labor in the form of graffiti removal. He was also ordered to pay restitution at the rate of $100 per month to the Little Tokyo Public Safety Association (LTPSA).

The probation conditions further mandated that he will never write or type his graffiti moniker in any medium, not to own, use or possess any graffiti tools, and to submit to search anytime by any law enforcement officer, including providing the passwords to all his social media sites.

The June 10 incident sparked mixed reactions, ranging from outrage to sadness, in the 135-year old Little Tokyo community. The mural was the result of a three-year campaign led by the late Nancy Kikuchi, an LTPSA volunteer.

Kikuchi collaborated with muralists Tony Osumi, Sergio Diaz, Jorge Diaz, and co-project manager Takao Suzuki to make the massive art piece a reality. More than 500 people helped to paint the mural, which features scenes of Little Tokyo life and key moments in Japanese American history. The mural also became the subject of a documentary by Steve Nagano.

When the restored mural was rededicated last May, the community paid tribute to Kikuchi, who died of cancer in 2014 at the age of 52.

“I think as a community we were heartbroken…given the deep significance the mural held for Little Tokyo,” said Brian Kito of LTPSA.

Kikuchi’s parents, Yasuo and May, accepted commendations from the city and Council District 14 along with a replica of the plaque honoring her “leadership and spirit.”

Diaz’s family members were moved to tears as they listened to words of appreciation expressed by those who knew Sergio, who passed away in December 2017 at age 48. He was represented at the commemorative event by his brother Jorge, wife Stephanie and daughters Olivia and Luka.

“He was a really a wonderful father and a really great friend and husband,” fellow artist Osumi said of Sergio. “You could not have a better friend than Sergio.”

Consul General of Japan Akira Chiba commented that the newly refurbished mural “now has added a new spirit, the spirit of the Japanese American community of coming back always, its resilience and its achievements.”

The trial will take place in Department 52 of the Clara Shortridge Foltz Criminal Justice Center, starting Nov. 19.

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