Tian refused to cooperate with the D.C. police department’s Asian Liaison Unit, according to officials at her court appearance. She wouldn’t say where she stayed in the District. She told police that she had lived in Los Angeles, but prosecutors said they could find no evidence of that. She speaks little or no English. Her visa to visit the United States expired three days ago.
As authorities investigate crimes that marred the Lincoln Memorial, a statue of the Smithsonian’s first secretary and sanctuaries in two churches — one with a toxic mixture of paint, urine and feces — it may be as challenging to understand who Tian is as it will be to determine a motive for the vandalism. D.C. Police Chief Cathy L. Lanier said Tuesday that the suspect may have “mental health issues.”
D.C. Magistrate Judge Lori Parker ordered Tian to remain in jail until her next hearing Friday; so far, she faces a single charge of defacing property for that incident at the National Cathedral, which carries a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison and a fine of up to $5,000.
Tian appeared in court in shackles and wearing a white jail jumpsuit. She was accompanied by a Mandarin interpreter and a female marshal, who at one point pulled her backward when she became agitated while speaking.
“She’s a danger to the community,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Kevin Chambers told the court, because of “numerous attacks on treasured landmarks.”
Tian’s public defender, Nancy Glass, described her as a “tourist in this country.” But the prosecutor shot back that her purpose in the District was to “deface landmarks.”
Lanier, during her monthly segment on NewsChannel 8, made the most definitive remarks yet linking the crimes, which occurred at the Lincoln Memorial, the statue of Joseph Henry on the Mall, the statue of Martin Luther at Thomas Circle and the organ at the adjacent Luther Place Memorial Church, and in two chapels at National Cathedral.
Damage estimates are still coming in: $3,000 in one cathedral chapel and $15,000 in another — with tricky work to repair a paint-splattered reredos, or altarpiece, covered with gold leaf. According to court documents, the gold leaf must be removed to make the repair, but that could cause additional damage.
Lanier said D.C. police and U.S. Park Police are “looking at this as possibly being linked. They certainly seem to be.”
While the judge said Tian had been in the District only two days, some of the vandalism may have occurred before the weekend, and she reportedly was approached by homeless advocates over the winter. Even her name became a source of confusion. District police released two different spellings after her arrest Monday. Prosecutors offered a third version in court documents Tuesday, but it was later determined that the police’s second spelling matches her Chinese passport.