Church Street Mural Vandalism Suspect Avoids Criminal Charges | Off Message

Church Street Mural Vandalism Suspect Avoids Criminal Charges


A tarp covering the mural after the Halloween vandalism - FILE: MATTHEW ROY
  • File: Matthew Roy
  • A tarp covering the mural after the Halloween vandalism
Prosecutors have decided to hold off on charges for Eric Maier, a Burlington musician who was arrested last week on suspicion of twice defacing a controversial downtown mural.

Chittenden County State’s Attorney Sarah George told Seven Days via email Friday that Maier’s case was referred to the Burlington Community Justice Center.

"CJC referrals are pre-charge, so he’s not officially 'charged,'" George wrote, "but we didn’t decline to prosecute it either. If [Maier] completes CJC then he won’t have to appear in court. If he does not, he will be officially 'charged' and have to appear in court."

Maier, who performed with the recently disbanded psych-pop quintet Madaila, was arrested December 5, more than a month after he allegedly used a chemical solution to destroy parts of the mural depicting Caucasian people’s faces. Margaux Higgins of Burlington was arrested November 7 on suspicion of being an accessory to the crime.

In announcing the arrests last week, police said the damage to the mural, which adorns a wall along Leahy Way off the Church Street Marketplace, "is estimated at $5,000 to $10,000 and may not be repairable."
The Halloween night vandalism took place after more than a year of acrimony over the mural's lack of diversity. The public piece of artwork is called "Everyone Loves a Parade!" and features prominent Vermonters, including Samuel de Champlain, Ethan Allen and modern political figures. The vast majority are white, and Maier was one of many vocal critics of the mural who said it failed to honor Vermont's Native American community and other people of color.

In response to critics, the Burlington City Council voted in October to move the mural by 2022. But that decision did not appease some, including local activist Albert Petrarca, who wanted it removed immediately.

One of those who said he respected the council's decision was Vermont Abenaki Chief Don Stevens. In response to claims that the mural's defenders are "racist," Stevens wrote in an October 18 email that the rhetoric from activists had gone too far.
"Abenaki Leaders do not subscribe to these sort of tactics," Stevens wrote. "We are willing to engage in meaningful dialogue with the City Council that will advance the needs and well being of our people. We have no issue fighting for our rights or standing up to anyone threatening the survival of our people. This issue is far from that level of action needed on our part."

 A couple of weeks later, passersby noticed that part of the 124-foot-long mural was covered with tarp where officials had blocked view of the vandalism. The tarp has been there since.

  • Burlington Police
  • Eric Maier
After his arrest, police referred Maier’s case to George’s office for prosecution. But instead of being arraigned Thursday as expected, Maier was apparently in Manhattan. He posted an Instagram photo Thursday night from the Bowery Ballroom in New York City. Reached Friday morning, he declined to comment about his case.

Burlington Police Chief Brandon del Pozo was not immediately available for an interview Friday morning.

The Burlington Community Justice Center runs a Rapid Intervention Community Court, which sends suspects through a “restorative panel process” after a referral from prosecutors, according to the center’s website.

In an email, George said restorative justice is an ideal fit for Maier's case.

"We referred the case to CJC because, if Mr. Maier acknowledges and accepts responsibility for the role he is alleged to have played in defacing the mural, the steps he would have to take through the restorative justice process could have a meaningful and lasting impact," George wrote.

She added that the out-of-court process also "proactively seeks to strengthen the entire community."

"We believe this outcome is especially appropriate in this case, as we consider the destruction of public artwork to be a serious offense against our community," George wrote.

So far, Maier’s permanent record is clean. As of Thursday afternoon, there were no records related to Maier — for the mural or anything else — filed with Chittenden County Superior Court. Court staff confirmed they’d received no paperwork in connection with Maier’s arrest.

Maier isn't completely off the hook; those who fail to complete the community court program can still be charged with a crime.

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