EDITOR’S NOTE: This column initially appeared at the Crime & Federalism blog, http://federalism.typepad.com/crime_federalism/ and then was posted at The Cool Justice Report, http://cooljustice.blogspot.com
Welcome to Pleasantville, aka Anytown, Connecticut.
This time, Anytown is Stafford, in north central Connecticut by the Massachusetts border. The place has been violated by a huge and dynamic painter. The big guy tried to come back home from a West Coast adventure and share his vision with street kids and anyone else who might take a look.
For his efforts, Olof Aspelin has been charged with felony criminal mischief. The full weight of the law has landed on Big Olof.
I’m hoping Olof will overcome the pressure and the system. He will need some serious help. Some old friends already have deserted him.
Olof’s biggest crime is being different. The gentle-sounding hulk with shaved head and various tattoos stands about 6-feet, three inches tall and weighs well over 200 pounds. Some of his art and perhaps some of his crowd bother the local powers that be.
The town and the state need to tame Olof, put him in his place. The spirit killers are primed with a vengeance.
Some of Olof’s work is conventional. His portraits would do very well in mainstream galleries with what passes for art in the suburban chic towns.
Other pieces have overtly political streaks that could be called anti-authoritarian. Those in the latter category cause discomfort. There are faceless and perhaps oppressive cops, demonic soldiers in tanks and odd-looking creatures Olof calls “everyday man getting punished at work.”
It is striking that those same subjects might not trouble people in everyday life, whereas their treatment by Olof the artist is indeed troublesome for certain officials and their cliques.
The trouble in Stafford started after Olof began attracting a crowd at a studio donated by a local businessman. The collaborative spirit generated lots of energy, art and noise. Soon, graffiti began appearing all around town. Olof admits he could not control his followers.
Instead of working to channel the creative spirit, however, authorities decided to drop the hammer on Olof.
They squeezed his former roommate. To make the charges go away, the roommate probably admitted to acts he did not commit. He also fingered Olof.
Cops raided the studio. They seized a big load of art supplies.
Was this a proper and effective allocation of police resources? Could it have anything to do with the reported painting of the local police headquarters? It certainly did not have much to do with protecting and serving the general populace.
Olof and his remaining friends stand strong. They are trying to create new studios and a gallery in an old mill. A coffee shop might be added to the mix.
Officials and some others are trying to shed the town of the Olof influence.
In one instance, it cost volunteers $50 to paint over graffiti on a railroad overpass. Authorities filed the repair estimate at up to $20,000. That estimate put the felony in criminal mischief. State prosecutor Cynthia Baer presented a case against Olof The Dangerous that could lock him up for 40 years.
A more enlightened community might have hired Olof and his crew to brighten up selected public spaces. Details could have been negotiated. It’s happened in many other municipalities.
The actual workings of the so-called justice system are rigged to work against people like Olof and for people like the Stafford first selectman. The government class – including judges, prosecutors, town officials and, unfortunately, some purported defense lawyers – tends to serve itself at the expense of other citizens who either lack political connections or are in political disfavor. Chalk up at least two strikes for Olof.
Olof refused a plea deal much like the one taken by his former roommate: five year suspended sentence, four years probation and payments totaling more than $13,000 for restitution and to charity. Olof told me his lawyer wasn’t happy about his rejection of the plea deal. Olof’s lawyer will need to work for a living or Olof will need to get a real lawyer. He needs some serious juice for even a longshot hope at justice.
Clearly, the repair estimates and the arrest warrants are cooked to pile on Olof.
Stafford First Selectman Allen Bacchiochi has vowed to protect the community from graffiti artists. The police will be watching. It is Bacchiochi who should have been charged in this case – for impersonating a leader. His tombstone might read, “I made Stafford safe from art.”
Olof’s case is pending in Rockville Superior Court.
Andy Thibault, author of Law & Justice In Everyday Life and a private investigator, is an adjunct lecturer of English and a mentor in the MFA writing program at Western Connecticut State University. Thibault also serves as a consulting editor for the literary journal Connecticut Review. Website, www.andythibault.com and Blog, http://cooljustice.blogspot.com
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