Man arrested in graffiti art tribute

Suspect identified as artist 'Keith Haring's Ghost'

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - Eleven traffic control utility boxes throughout the city of Jacksonville have been plagued with graffiti attributed to a Jacksonville-based man paying tribute to a dead artist named Keith Haring.

Between Aug. 15 and Dec. 29, the boxes owned and maintained by the city were spray painted with graffiti, resulting in about $1,100 in damages.

Jacksonville police said investigative efforts revealed the suspect, Kevin "Chip" Southworth (pictured), photographed the graffiti on the traffic control boxes and uploaded them to Facebook accounts, claiming them as his own works of art as a tribute to Haring.

Police identified Southworth as Haring's "ghost."

They said several articles of evidence were recovered during a search warrant that was executed to include articles of clothing he used to do a media interview, his cellphone with several pictures of the criminal mischief graffiti to the traffic control boxes, and pieces of artwork he used to create the graffiti he put on the control boxes.

Southworth told police he was the person who did the graffiti and set up the two Facebook accounts under the name of "keith Haring X 2013" and "Keith Haring's Ghost," investigators said.

He was booked into the Duval County jail and has since bonded out. He could face up to five years in prison and a $5,000 fine.

"Chip Southworth is a lifelong resident of Jacksonville. He is a veteran of the U.S. Navy Presidential Guard and has always been very active in our community," Southwick's attorney, John Phillips, said in a statement. "He has worked with the Chamber, the City Council and the Cultural Council regarding his art. Some of his art is currently hanging in the Cummer Museum and he was recently commissioned by the City of Jacksonville to paint a portrait. His arrest and Jacksonville Sheriff's Office's further 'social media campaign,' including trying the case in social media and posting his mugshot, is irresponsible, if not unjust.

"This matter will be handled in a court of law. The family's focus is on clearing his name and helping his wife through her ongoing treatment for breast cancer. We appreciate all of the kind words of support."

City workers began painting over the graffiti on the traffic control utility boxes Wednesday afternoon, painting two boxes with two coats of aluminum colored paint. City officials said it costs about $110 to repaint each box. They said dark colors on these boxes can increase the temperature inside the cabinet and cause equipment failures.

A local attorney not affiliated with the case has an office just feet away from some of the graffiti and said she doesn't like it being so close to her place of business.

"I feel (covering it up is) the right thing to do, because that's going to prevent other people from feeling they have the right to go around our city and write and do what they want," attorney Alma Defillo said.

Not everyone was against the graffiti seen on boxes in San Marco and Riverside.

"I think it enhances the way the neighborhood looks," resident Nicholas Kaisharis said. "It makes it unique. It makes it interesting."

"I think living in this neighborhood, we see art popping up all over the place, and it brings me joy when I see the colorful art," resident Bethany Kaisharis said. "I understand that it's vandalism, but it's pretty vandalism."

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