By the time Atherton City Manager George Rodericks returned to work in mid-August from a summer break, Public Works Department staff had power-washed the brick wall under his office window to erase the words "Nazi scum" that had been scrawled there in black spray paint. The wall is now clean again, but the impact lingered.
"I was saddened by that type of graffiti," Mr. Rodericks told the Almanac. "In a community like Atherton, that is disheartening to see. ... It was sad that it was on a public building, and hard not to feel like the target of that sort of message."
"That was unsettling," Public Works Department Superintendent Steve Tyler said. "It looked like something a kid might have done."
The wall is not within the view of surveillance cameras and is the wall most shielded from view by hedges and shrubbery, Mr. Rodericks said.
Police learned of the graffiti on Aug. 17 from a town employee who had been driving by, Sgt. Sherman Hall of the Atherton Police Department said. An investigation began, but is suspended pending the development of leads, he said.
The Caltrain station, which is nearby, has been a target of graffiti in the past, Mr. Rodericks said.
Man behaving oddly, with a camera
In what police see as an unrelated incident, "an individual who was acting strangely" took photos of Mr. Rodericks and Mr. Tyler from outside Mr. Rodericks' window, Mr. Tyler said.
"I was standing in George's office and I had the view of it," Mr. Tyler told the Almanac. The man held up a cellphone and took a picture or two, then jumped into his truck and leaned out the window and gestured, rubbing his thumb and fingers together as is done to indicate money, he said.
The man did nothing that was illegal, just exhibited odd behavior, Mr. Rodericks said. "It's not illegal to be odd," he added.
A man whose truck fit the description of the man's truck in the Town Hall incident entered the Atherton police station on two consecutive days and used his cellphone camera to take photos of officer photos posted inside the station, Sgt. Hall said.
"It was erratic," he said, "so it was necessary to contact him and find out if he's OK."
Officers did contact the man, Sgt. Hall said, and learned that he was upset with the police department, and that he felt that taking photos of the officers was a way to address his feelings.
A member of the City Council also reported being photographed by someone in a truck that fit the description of the earlier incidents, though it could not be confirmed that it was the same person, Mr. Rodericks said in a report to the council. He said he included the incident in his report for the purpose of "increased situational awareness."
Police considered the possibility that the man with the camera was involved in the graffiti, but there was no evidence linking him to the crime, Sgt. Hall said.
The penalty for a graffiti conviction, if the damage is less than $400 – which it is in this case, Sgt. Hall said – is a maximum of one year in the county jail or a fine of not more than $1,000 or both a fine and jail time.
If the suspect were found to have had a previous vandalism conviction, the maximum fine rises to $5,000, he said.