Group starts defense fund for accused; free speech cited
LAFAYETTE — The man accused of defacing Lafayette’s downtown 9/11 Monument told a judge Friday that he is homeless and does not have money for an attorney, but that might change.
A man who attended the court hearing said he and others are starting a legal defense fund for Salvador Perez in the name of speech and artistic freedom.
Perez, 35, told state court Magistrate Judge Thomas Frederick that he is homeless. He made the court appearance via a video linking the courtroom with the jail.
Crawford Comeaux, a computer programmer from Lafayette, said the group that wants to collect money to help Perez numbered “nine and growing.”
“I don’t know the guy. But I’m a big supporter of the arts and free speech,” Comeaux said. “We believe that he would not have gotten charged if it had been something different.”
Lafayette police arrested Perez on Wednesday, the 12th anniversary of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, for allegedly attaching models of exploding airplanes to the two steel I-beams of Lafayette’s 9/11 Monument in Parc Sans Souci.
Police spokesman Cpl. Paul Mouton has declined to comment on the motive behind hanging the model planes on the monument’s steel beams or to speculate on the intended message.
Perez was booked into the Lafayette Parish Correctional Center on one count of criminal trespassing, and one count of criminal damage to historic buildings or landmarks.
Frederick told Perez he also was being held on a Lafayette City Court warrant for trespassing. He said Perez’s bail was set at a total of $11,000.
According to the arrest affidavit, Perez cooperated when police found him. The document also stated Perez has no prior convictions.
However, Perez was charged in June by the Lafayette Parish District Attorney’s Office with one count of theft under $500, allegedly for stealing from a Lowe’s store in March, according to 15th Judicial District Court records.
The monument was dedicated on Sept. 11, 2002, one year after more than 3,000 Americans, including five Louisianians, died in New York, Arlington, Va., and in a Pennsylvania field. It was constructed with two 13-foot I-beams taken from the wreckage of the World Trade Center’s Twin Towers.
The base surrounding the monument has a pentagon shape and contains limestone from the debris at the Pentagon.
The display, erected early Wednesday, was quickly taken down.
Police have not said how they identified Perez as a suspect, including whether the video cameras mounted in numerous places downtown played a part.
Marjorie Esman, executive director for the American Civil Liberties Union in New Orleans, has said Perez had a right to express himself, but within limits.
“He has a First Amendment right to his opinions,” she said. “He does not have the right, in any way, to change the appearance of public property.”
Mouton has said police had no comment on a detail etched on one model’s tail section — “NWO” wrapped in a circle.
One Lafayette news outlet, television station KATC, speculated the letters stood for New World Order.
KATC also ran a photo on its website, reportedly taken by someone who does not work for the station, that shows a cutout of former President George W. Bush. The photo, snapped before the sun rose, shows Bush with cash in one hand and what appears to be a detonator in the other.