Suspect Arrested in Racist Defacing of African Burial Ground

Left: Images purporting to be Ivan Nieves at the African Burial Ground National Monument, were tweeted by NYPD Chief of Detectives Dermot F. Shea. Right: The monument, located across the street from the Federal Building. Photos: NYPD and African Burial Ground National Monument

Nov. 21, 2018

A man suspected of defacing the African Burial Ground National Monument with a racist slur has been arrested.

Ivan Nieves, 57, of the Bronx, was charged in federal court on Tuesday with vandalism and disorderly conduct “with intent to cause public alarm, nuisance, jeopardy and violence…” Both are misdemeanors, each with maximum sentences of two years. No hate crime charges have yet been filed.

Nieves, released on bond, will be formally arraigned sometime after the weekend, James Margolin, spokesman for the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Manhattan, said on Wednesday. Nievess lawyer, Philip Weinstein, told the Trib that his client will plead not guilty, but declined to comment further on the case.

Three law enforcement agencies—the NYPD, U.S. Park Police and the Federal Protective Service—were involved in the investigation. “There are a lot of cameras in that area,” said Rob Sperling, a spokesman for the Federal Protective Service. “So the investigators had to sift through all of that footage, all of those different camera feeds to put the whole picture together to narrow down to when the incident actually happened, and any individuals that were there in and around that time when the incident appeared to have happened.”

“It truly was hours and hours of footage that these guys had to go through,” Sperling added, though he could not say what specific imagery connected Nieves to the crime.  

Dermot F. Shea, the NYPD’s chief of detectives, tweeted two photos that purported to show Nieves at the scene, but the person’s face is obscured. “Hate has no place in NYC,” Shea said in his tweet, which announced the arrest.

Four days after the graffiti was discovered, City Council members and others gathered at the monument to condemn the act. Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams offered a $1,000 reward to anyone who could lead police to the vandal. “I will use my personal money to bring them to justice,” he said. “They must be punished for what they did.”