Two men from the Maryland suburbs teamed up this year to scrawl hundreds of elaborate graffiti "tags" on walls, fences and mailboxes in a wide swath of Washington, officials said, causing nearly $500,000 in damage and leaving residents and shopkeepers complaining of blight.
Using the spray-painted signatures of NORES and KOMA, the men became the boldest and most active members of a newly thriving D.C. graffiti scene, creating one piece that is two stories high, according to police and city officials. But now police say they've arrested the duo.
Mary C. Williams, left, D.C. Clean City coordinator, and activist Tomika Hughey show graffiti damage on H Street NE.
(Photos Michael Williamson -- The Washington Post)
Police said Sean Spenser is the artist known as NORES and Michael Holland is KOMA. They were apprehended last week after they were spotted spray-painting a storefront on Florida Avenue NW, police said. Authorities said they confiscated about 32 cans of paint.
Mary C. Williams, the District government's Clean City coordinator, said their capture marked "a very pivotal moment" in the city's struggle to clean up.
"I was just elated," Williams said. "I just could not believe that we somehow had the good fortune of being able to find these guys."
Although some graffiti in the city can be tied to street gangs' marking their turf, a large part of the vandalism comes from self-styled artists who vie for bragging rights by seeking the biggest, most visible canvases. Police said Spenser and Holland have been active in the city for the past few years and apparently began working together in a more aggressive way in recent months.
Spenser, 21, lives with his father in a two-story home in Colesville. Holland, 22, lives in nearby Beltsville, court papers say. Both have denied wrongdoing. They have worked as landscapers for the past year, according to court documents.
Police said their tags typically appear together, usually in letters two or three feet high. They have shown up in the Shaw neighborhood and along major corridors such as Benning Road NE and Georgia, Rhode Island and New York avenues.
In most cases, NORES and KOMA eschewed the elaborate colors and bubble letters used by some other artists. Simple tags like the kind Spenser and Holland allegedly used -- intended only to say "I was here" -- are called "throw-ups" among graffiti writers because they can be thrown up quickly on a wall.
The tags NORES and KOMA are "everywhere," said D.C. police Investigator Kristian Kimble, the department's graffiti expert. "That's just about as specific as I can be. Anywhere and everywhere. I've seen it from the bottom of a lamppost to the top of a building."
The arrests took place shortly after 3 a.m. last Thursday, after someone called 911 to report two men spray-painting a store in the 600 block of Florida Avenue, police said.
When Sgt. Gregory Chandler arrived, he saw a maroon Cadillac pulling away from the curb in front of a store with NORES and KOMA painted on its steel shutters, police said. Chandler pulled the car over, and another officer spotted two paint cans inside, police said.
The driver of the car, later identified as Spenser, gave officers permission to search the trunk, police said. Inside, they found about 30 paint cans in various colors, said Cmdr. Larry D. McCoy of the 3rd Police District.
Officers noticed that Spenser's and Holland's hands were covered with paint, McCoy said, and they found a piece of paper on Spenser with NORES written on it, McCoy said.