WESTERLY — An Ashaway man was arrested after police said graffiti drawn on a desk at the Westerly Education Center in 2017 connected him to vandalism in the Amtrak pedestrian tunnel in downtown Westerly.
Police on Friday charged 19-year-old Jason D. Connell, of 355 Woodville Road, Apt. C, with one count of vandalism through malicious damage to property. He was released on a promise to appear in Fourth Division District Court this week.
"This was a case of old-fashioned police work, and we came to an arrest only because the public was active in reporting what they saw," said Westerly Police Chief Shawn Lacey. "It highlights the importance of maintaining community partners and working with the public."
Lacey said Community Officer Howard Mills conducted a targeted investigation after the department received a complaint on Dec. 11 regarding tagging that was occurring in the Amtrak pedestrian tunnel adjacent to the train station and Westerly Education Center. It was the fourth complaint of vandalism in the downtown area in a little over a month, Lacey said.
Mills connected the incidents by identifying specific graffiti markings and the tagger name JSK, which was used on more than one occasion.
The research led Mills to recognize that the tag name JSK stood for "Jay Slick Kid," a nickname used by Connell, Lacey said. The police also realized that they'd seen the marking more than a year earlier, shortly after the Westerly Education Center opened.
"The center had reported the damage to have it on record," Lacey said. "Connell was a student at the center when that damage occurred."
Lacey said officers spoke with Connell and discovered that he had also tagged several state properties along Woodville Road in Hopkinton. Hopkinton Police Capt. Mark Carrier said Monday that the department has since connected him to those instances of graffiti and to markings on a guardrail recently installed near his home.
Carrier said Connell was expected to be charged within the next several days. He praised Westerly's efforts, saying their decision to reach out may have cracked the case in both communities.
"This type of case shows the importance of keeping an open line of communication," he said. "I've preached to my guys for years that it is important to keep an open line of communication. This is a perfect example; in this case, there was damage we weren't even aware of yet and we already have conclusion."
Lacey said the police are still seeking to address vandalism reported at the Clydesdale Tavern and the White Rock Skatepark at the Gingerella Sports Complex on White Rock Road.
Long-term solutions could include relocating some of the town's surveillance cameras that are set up downtown, or seeking an additional camera that could be used in such instances, Lacey said. The department, he added, would continue to monitor "hot spots" and assign more frequent patrols or take other additional measures.
The most effective deterrent, however, still remains an active and vigilant public, Lacey said.
"We wouldn't have solved this without the help of the public. They are our eyes and ears; without their help, there's only so much we can do," he said.