Mysterious poster removed; artist identified, facing charges

From the Sheriff’s Office

A mysterious poster alarmed Salida High School administrators who discovered it on February 5. It was removed by sheriff’s deputies the same day.  The poster was attached to a metal building located across the street from the school, and visible from the school entrance as well as many classrooms.

The cardboard poster, measuring three feet by four feet, contains a graphic drawing of two human brains side by side in the upper panel.  Below those are images of two assault-style rifles, painted in vibrant red, one above the other.  In the center of the poster is a black horizontal stripe.  Black shadowing frames the entire work.  The poster had been attached to the building ten feet about ground level.  It was secured with glue and several nails.  Neither the building owner nor the person leasing the building knew of its presence before being contacted by deputies.

School staff and law enforcement officers were alarmed by the poster’s dark message given recent events in Newtown and Aurora, as well as the fact that the poster was discovered just one day after Salida officers investigated an incident in which a young man dressed in black had intruded into the school and was later arrested.

A sheriff’s detective and district attorney’s investigator devoted several hours attempting to identify the poster’s creator and to decipher its cryptic message.  Those efforts included interviewing numerous persons and notifying law enforcement agencies in neighboring counties.  A bar code found on the back of the carton was traced to a Denver distribution center.  Investigators transmitted the image of the drawing to Colorado Bureau of Investigation; FBI Crypto Unit in Quantico, Virginia; Colorado Department of Corrections Gang Intelligence Unit; and Colorado Information Analysis Center operated by Colorado State Patrol in Denver.

Eventually the poster’s alleged creator was identified.  On February 14, a summons was issued to local artist James Edward Descant, 52, of Salida.  He is charged with criminal trespass, a petty offence; and criminal tampering, a misdemeanor.

The Citizen is happy to provide a forum for comments and discussion. Please be civil, truthful, and relevant. Please suggest removal of comments that violate these standards. Real names are appreciated.

15 Responses to “Mysterious poster removed; artist identified, facing charges”

  1. Cutler Ferchaud

    Just because you have the right to say something doesn't mean it's the right thing to say.

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  2. Jimmy Descant

    To the citizens, artists, and consciousness of Salida,

    Not knowing the extent of events leading up to and after the discovery of my poster, I was fine with being the anonymous artist. I purposefully made the art on cardboard to apply it to the building, instead of directly. When I first saw that it was gone I figured it had been removed by the owner, a collector of art, or the authorities. The poster was up for weeks and as far as I knew, nary a peep about controversy. But when the grapevine alerted me that someone else was being implicated in connection with my statement, I was shocked and came forward of my own accord to set the record straight.

    I found out that the way it occurred was the 'young man in black' (not Johnny Cash) was someone I knew who has mental health issues and tried to enter the school. I have never thought, and still don't, that he is a danger, and I sympathize with his parents as to their trials and have tried to help where I can in regards to art and interaction. Upon a visit to the school by the police, he was let go at first, then later arrested and questioned after the police discovered and removed my art on that shed thinking there was some connection. But I assure you, there was not, and is not, in this context. I work alone, mostly.

    I did not know any of this till this past week and not being Banksy, immediately called Chief Clark and Sheriff Palmer, and later detectives showed up at my door. After a week of analysis by our best in blue and all these national entities of intelligence, their first question was "What does it mean?" I smiled and said, with no smart attitude, "Brains Over Guns", a math problem, a fraction, a statement of positivity in a country divided. Their next comment was "Jimmy, we're actually glad it was you." I found them to be professional in their query and they felt I was sincere in my message as a positive one, so we left it at that with no arrest, but on notice that I would probably get a summons.

    Later I got a phone call from Sheriff Palmer, it was cordial. He was most worried that this was going to be another big dust up like the peace sign chapter, and I figured I knew what I would expect from the current DA. An hour later I was served with a summons, and two hours after that came the press release to all area media.

    My respect for the Sheriff's office was somewhat eroded after this release which was actually the real 'cryptic message' in it's own dark portrayal of events once learning the whole. It does a disservice. Many have commented and consensus is that it was from The Onion or dark side of Nancy Drew, but no hard feelings. But, I'd really like to take a look at those other reports though to see what conclusions were reached about the message, wouldn't you? If anyone thinks my art is about violence, destruction, or negativity, they don't know me, but can easily find out.

    When another friend learned about the placement, he was aghast at the idea of the poster being in eyesight of the school, but that same sightline looks straight across the highway to an actual gun store selling weapons and ammo. That view not so much attention for many people. Why is the idea of guns' represented on cardboard against guns so horrific, when we are in a whirlwind of real violence by tools of violence nationally and internationally? That's not to say that the owner isn't a nice person with a nice family, as are most gun owners. I'm not naive, or that mean, and I know we have it pretty good here. We still live in the whole world though.

    A common argument I hear is that a rock or a stick can be an assault weapon and should we outlaw table legs and on and on and on; which I find to be an absurd cliche. Opinion, but not really an argument. No matter how you use it, cherish it, or protect it, a gun and a bullet have one purpose; their destiny is to destroy something; minutely or catastrophically, if it's a piece of thin target paper or a human skull. There never was a bullet fired that landed on a soft pillow of air and stayed there.

    In my math fraction, the numerator has the best and most potential for expansion, open ended to the sky and top heavy. The denominator (supposed equalizer dominator) can only go down, into the ground, and be buried either by physicality or mentality. If a kid cries when they see my art or a man grimaces in hate for my opinion, that's the time to connect for the positive.

    Even though I have no children, I voted for new schools for an ideal. I believe that having ANY guns in the schools, around kids, for any reason, on any person is a failure of intellect for our community, and the way we seek to raise up the species. I believe in the intelligent staff and professional peace officers always close at hand. I believe teaching kids that a gun is the only possible tool to protect them in school and in life is the antithesis of strength, but the party line of the sickness of the NRA's administration. I think it can only take the rational actions of members to change it, or abandon it. War type guns, bullets, and bombs, domestic or export, in such a massive retching is a sickness, and the cure is not more sickness.

    So, in closing, let your shoulders drop, and breath... and think. This is not the end all moment of me as an artist or the gun, so let the discussions begin. I believe my time of stealth-like unsanctioned art projects is already over, and not just because the paper outed me as 52! But if you have the passion for something provocative and sanctioned on your own private property that you need to get out in positive reponse, you can find me, I'm not hiding, or leaving. Because I love this town, it's people, it's potential, and it's influences. I apologize for making people nervous near the school, and as the 'bad guy' I will take my medicine when the time comes and I ask that you to try to forgive my trespasses, as I have tried to forgive yours. But who's counting?

    Peace, Jimmy Descant

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  3. Greg

    Wow, to begin, nice words Jimmy. I find this whole thing very interesting. I have been struggling a bit with the whole gun thing lately, and I think this helps put some things in perspective for me. I am not sure that I can fall on one side or the other on the gun debate. Partly, I think, that it is because I can't believe that there are only two sides to this issue, it's just too complicated and involved. I just don't see a gun ban or even an extension of our existing laws doing any good? I guess I just feel that any laws that fundamentally divide us with minimal results would do more harm than good. I also don't see a whole lot of alternatives from the pro gun side on solutions to our problems besides more guns?

    I do agree that there is no place for firearms in our schools. I think you put it elegantly Jimmy when you said that it would be a "failure of intellect". We are better than that.

    However, I do not necessarily think that guns should be banned. Guns are a part of our culture, a part of our heritage, and I do not deny anyone the right to own a gun.

    So what is the solution? I don't know, but I think it's clear that we need to have a serious discussion. What if the gun ban folks and the pro gun folks could put aside the debate and talk solutions? I realize that is what they think they are doing, but I just don't think so. I feel that the gun ban folks are saying there is no way we can prevent people from wanting to walk into a school and shoot children, so we must ban guns, and the pro gun folks are saying that you will never completely keep guns out of those who want to walk into a school and shoot children, so we better put guns into the hands of teachers and have armed guards. Really? That's all you got? Neither "solution" aims at the root of the problem - which is that a human wants to walk into a building full of youthful humans and end their lives! Why is nobody spending millions of dollars trying to figure this out? Is this not simple evolution? Can we really proceed as a race if we don't figure this out? Ultimately we're all on the same frickin' team here!!

    So, back to Jimmy's thing.... I think what strikes me, and I think this gets back to the disconnect of problem and solution. Here is an example of a person who puts something out there in an effort for us to think about things, and nobody knows what to think. Our instinct is to react in fear and defense. We are unable to dissect the difference between a threat and a message, and that is a problem.

    Anyway, thanks for taking one for the team Jimmy! Peace.
    Greg Follet

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    • Jimmy Descant

      Greg, you have always struck me as a light in life of a small town and someone who smiles as much as me! Your insight and questions and want for path here is great! I appreciate this intelligent response to the art and subject. I wanted to make it clear in my art and comments that I'm not 'taking' people's guns, but have the opinion that we have to stop this every day vomiting out production of millions more guns on the streets. Some say, 'oh, you'll kill jobs' but the real case is that those jobs are killing the collective consciousness of our society, even though it puts food on the table. What's point is that food tastes like gunpowder and blood? It is the best and most truly patriotic on the pro gun side that will most likely have to take the reins of sanity in cooperation, and I for one am not drawing the absolute line in the sand. Thanks Greg.

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  4. Scott Knauer

    I think you're walking a thin line these days when you do anything that combines guns and schools with uncertainty- even if it is a positive message as this poster was. I have mixed feelings about it. On the one hand I know any student can find extremely graphic content on their internet enabled phones and on the other I would be a little spooked about it if my daughter was in that school. Art has many purposes,and unless you're standing in a darkened room, it is almost impossible to avoid. Without moving my head, I can see hundreds of pieces of art: my laptop housing , the sleeves of my shirt, the icons of applications, a poster I painted on one wall and a Smalzel landscape on another. All created by artists. Some are for function, some are for allowing us to contemplate beauty and some make us think. This simple poster- even if it is construed as ill advised, is nonetheless serving it's purpose, and my guess is that hundreds of people in Salida are thinking about it. Like the big blue mustang on the way to DIA, love it or hate it, I guarantee every car with 2 or more people that drive by discuss it and asks aloud what the @#$%&! it might mean, why is it there etc etc...and that's a good thing if you ask me. Jimmy pointed out the irony in being able to see a gun store from the school, and how that loaded (no pun intended) juxtaposition apparently creates no problem. Good point.
    I am an artist too, and I also love to stir the pot, so while I can understand some people's negative reaction to the poster, I also completely relate to an artist's need to inspire others to take another view..

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  5. John Preb

    Descant I an artist trying to change the world. Thinking that he was doing a good thing he put up a poster that had illustrations of guns and brains - and that worried people because they did not understand the message.. With the recent headlines about guns in schools this poster scared some people that did not understand its message. If the poster had a photo of a gun with at red "x" over the gun with the words "no guns" perhaps it would have been ignored. Should Descant should be prosecuted for creating unintelligible art.

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  6. Jimmy Descant

    When my lawyer suggested an alternative, I was refused a chance at Full Circle Restorative Justice today by the deputy DA Rex Kindall, which in my opinion, and others, would have been the best way to go for all concerned. He said to the public defender, "He's forcing his art on people, and is bringing the community down by placing this art for free around town, and he wasted the police's time." No understanding what the message was, how simple and positive it was, that I came forward of my own accord, that I was protecting Matthew (who will be in court tomorrow at 2), or that everything was fine with the Sheriff and the owner of the building prior to my getting his summons.
    Peace on ya, my friends, I believe the numerator will prevail. See y'all at court if you want, next Tues. 9am. Public Defender qualifying and then plead.
    If you would like to weigh in on this controversial misuse of the justice dept., please call or write our local/regional DA and Sheriff to let them know what you think of this case, and the clogging of the courts system! My case, and that of Matthew Varnum, were resolved and understood by the police and all those involved, but the Deputy DA still pressed charges not because of the trespass and tampering, but because of the art.

    The press release by the Sheriff, and my response letter here. http://salidacitizen.com/2013/02/mysterious-poster-removed-artist-identified-facing-charges/comment-page-1/#comment-15630

    Summons # 50118 Chaffee County; Case # 13-0405
    2nd degree tampering, a misdemeanor; 3rd degree trespass, a petty offense

    Colorado District Attorney John Suthers
    Ralph L. Carr Colorado Judicial Center1300 Broadway, 10th FloorDenver, Colorado 80203P: 720-508-6000F: 720-508-6030Attorney.General@state.co.us

    District Attorney Thom LeDoux, for the surrounding counties
    http://www.thomkledoux.com/
    https://www.facebook.com/pages/Thom-LeDoux-for-DA/152978571472371
    136 Justice Center Road, Room 203
    Canon City, CO 81212
    Ph: (719) 269-0170

    Deputy District Attorney Rex Kindall - my local case prosecutor
    104 Crestone Avenue
    Salida, CO 81201
    Ph: (719) 539-3563 Fax: (719) 539-3565

    Chaffe County Sheriff Pete Palmer
    641 West 3rd Street PO Box 699 Salida, Colorado 81201
    719-539-2596

    Letters to the editor, print and online - The Mountain Mail, Salida, CO. pgoetz@themountainmail.com
    The Salida Citizen, online - salidacitizen@gmail.com
    The Salida Daily Post, online - editor@salidadailypost.com
    The Denver Post - newsroom@denverpost.com

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  7. Jimmy Descant

    Matthew Varnum received 3 years probation today from the court, no jail time, and possible early termination later. Now his family has to pay lawyer and court costs for something that was resolved in the beginning, but forced thru by the deputy DA.

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  8. melodee hallett

    I have to wonder if what appeared in the paper was the whole story/ truth or if Mr. Varnum is being made an example of in a unfair/unjust manor? Does the punishment meet the crime?. That conviction can follow him around the rest of his life and can effect his ability to work unless he becomes a politician.

    I feel uncomfortable going on school property or any other government property that makes one go through the exercise.
    We are now conditioned to be afraid of our own shadow. Did the world really change or how we view it? Tolerance is where a small community can have some latitude. These are our neighbors.

    The difference between most of us not caught up in the system, that is compelled to sustain itself, is that we paid to stay out, had the means to do so, and the stars aligned.

    Jimmy tickles me because sometimes it takes unorthodox actions to get peoples attention. We have had numerous town characters step out to address social injustice.

    I call it overkill when apologies in the past would have sufficed.

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  9. Jimmy Descant

    Thank you Melodee, this is what I was trying to do and say before it went to the DA. No harm done from me or Matthew, but it is unfathomable to authorities to do anything in an alternative direction most times, like Full Circle Restorative Justice. The over reaction and subsequent embarrassment just have been let go of, but here we are. I feel for him and his parents for the next 3 (or less) years.

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  10. Jimmy Descant

    THANK YOU all for being there, and here, I really appreciate it. In the end, brains won out. After 2 months of no common sense it's over. The DA agreed with my public defender.... drop the misdemeanor charge of tampering, plead guilty to the petty offense for a $50 fine, and $69 in court costs; so I had to pay a total of $119 and I'm done. There was a last minute mention of restitution for the investigation, which they said would be open for 60 days, but after a phone call, that amounted to $0. AND.... I get the art poster back from the Sheriff, probably before the weekend. I will be displaying the art and some of my Peace-Skis at Feast Of Fools event at the community center on Sunday 6-10, and will have info about it all for the good of the public and citizenry. Feel free to print out the poster, put it in your window, and pass it around!
    My town is sweet as pie! Write a letter to the editor of you like, and anyone else too. Addresses below the previous comments about the Sheriff's scary press release. https://www.facebook.com/events/125643677624147/

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