Two face charges in school vandalism

The Palm Harbor men damaged the city recreation center, too, detectives say.

Published May 1, 2007

PALM HARBOR - The vandals who spray-painted slurs at Palm Harbor University High School last week didn't sign their names, but authorities say they left the next best thing: their actions caught on tape.

On Friday, the morning before prom, racial and ethnic slurs were found on nine portable classrooms at the high school, along with cryptic symbols and other strange writing.

School officials quickly painted over the graffiti, but the vandalism set the school abuzz.

On Monday, Pinellas County sheriff's officials arrested Colin Morrison, 19, and David Fishman, 18 - both of Palm Harbor - on a charge of felony criminal mischief.

Authorities said the slurs were directed against blacks and Jews, and the Sheriff's Office is labeling it a hate crime.

Under Florida law, the potential penalties for any felony or misdemeanor committed can be enhanced when the suspect shows evidence of prejudice based on the victim's race, color, ancestry, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, national origin, advanced age or mental or physical disability.

But hate had nothing to do with the vandalism, according to the father of one of the teens.

"Him and a friend of his apparently had a couple drinks and they thought it was a big joke to go over there and do this graffiti, " said Michael Morrison, Colin's father. "As far as any kind of hateful situation, it's not that at all. Frankly, the kid doesn't hate anybody."

Colin Morrison graduated from Palm Harbor University High School, his father said.

A woman who answered the telephone at Fishman's home would not comment Monday.

Sheriff's Sgt. Jim Bordner said detectives expect to charge the two teens with a similar vandalism that took place recently at the Palm Harbor recreation center. The Palm Harbor University High vandalism took place about 3 a.m. Friday and was discovered by a school worker three hours later. Authorities estimated the damage at $3, 000.

The break in the high school case came Monday when a school resource officer received a tip about the identity of the vandals. Both men were interviewed and arrested at their homes Monday afternoon, and both admitted their involvement in the crime, officials said.

Fishman was being held at the Pinellas County Jail on Monday evening in lieu of $10, 000 bail. Morrison was released from jail after posting $10, 000 bail.

Jonathan Abel can be reached at jabel@sptimes.com or 727 445-4157.