One man charged, two others to face charges in rash of vandalism incidents
By MMC Staff
MERRILL – A Merrill man has been charged with several counts of criminal damage to property and two others will face charges of criminal damage to property-party to a crime in connection with a rash of vandalism incidents in the Merrill area.
Matthew D. Peterson, 18, of Merrill, made an initial appearance in Lincoln County Circuit Court on Tuesday, Sept. 29, facing 14 counts of misdemeanor criminal damage to property and 10 counts of misdemeanor bail jumping.
According to court records, Angel A. Gehrke, 18, and Elijah R. Hintz, 19, both of Merrill, have been issued court summons, each facing three counts of criminal damage to property-party to a crime.
According to a 15-page criminal complaint filed with the Lincoln County District Attorney’s Office, a joint investigation between the Merrill Police Department and Lincoln County Sheriff’s Office resulted in charges being filed related to numerous vandalism incidents, including those in the Town of Pine River, at the Council Grounds State Park, the rock at Merrill High School, a Merrill business, a viaduct near the River Bend Trail, various road signs and parks within the city of Merrill. During the incidents, various acts of graffiti were committed using spray paint, depicting derogatory language, swastikas, human genitalia and references toward law enforcement.
Witness statements and evidence compiled during the four-month investigation identified Peterson as being directly involved in several incidents. However, during an interview with Peterson and an investigator, he reportedly denied any involvement and was uncooperative with investigators.
During interviews with Hintz, he reportedly admitted to various acts of graffiti, as well as implicating another party being involved, however the other individual was not identified in the complaint. Hintz reportedly stated the acts were random in nature, advising he and Peterson “would just walk around” and if they came up with a “cool idea,” they would spray paint it.
Hintz reportedly admitted to using black spray paint, and advised an investigator “it doesn’t take much paint,” and “I could paint this entire interview room with a half can of paint.”
Hintz reportedly further stated the spray paint was obtained from “random friends who had spray paint laying around.”
During an interview with Gehrke, she reportedly admitted to being aware of Peterson and Hintz “going around spray painting a lot,” and was willing to take accountability for using spray paint, to paint “K2” on a vehicle. Gehrke also named other individuals as being involved in various incidents. However, those individuals were not identified in the criminal complaint.
A press release from the Lincoln County Sheriff’s Office on the afternoon of Monday, Sept. 28 indicated Peterson had been taken into custody earlier that day.
Additional charges may be forthcoming, as all cases are consolidated between the agencies.
“These cases drew widespread attention due to the good deeds of some residents who used their time and effort to clean up the mess created by these adults,” the press release stated. “Law enforcement officers are grateful for their work, and the assistance from the community in solving these crimes.”
Peterson has been released on $12,000 signature bond, has been ordered to not be in possession of spray paint and to follow a daily curfew of 9 p.m. to 7 a.m.
An initial court appearance has been set for Thursday, Dec. 3 for both Gehrke and Hintz.