Man Charged With Vandalizing Mural Honoring Mexican-American Veterans in Santa Ana

Samuel Romero, 83, a Logan neighborhood resident and veteran, speaks on May 29, 2018, about vandalism near his father's portrait on a Santa Ana veterans' memorial that depicts portraits of 200 Mexican American men and women who have served in wars dating to World War I. (Credit: Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

Samuel Romero, 83, a Logan neighborhood resident and veteran, speaks on May 29, 2018, about vandalism near his father's portrait on a Santa Ana veterans' memorial that depicts portraits of 200 Mexican American men and women who have served in wars dating to World War I. (Credit: Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

A 20-year-old man was charged on Tuesday with vandalizing a mural in Santa Ana that honors the military service of nearly 200 local Mexican-Americans, officials said.

Eric Alan Cabrera, of Garden Grove, is accused of defacing the “Among Heroes” memorial outside La Chiquita Restaurant on Washington Avenue with blue graffiti the night of March 11, the Orange County District Attorney’s Office said in a news release.

DA’s officials said the mural includes men and women who served in World War II, the Korean War and the Vietnam War, although the Los Angeles Times reported that some of those included were involved in campaigns dating back to World War I. It stands in the Logan neighborhood, a part of the city with deep Latino heritage.

In damaging the artwork, Cabrera “disrespected the heroes who made Santa Ana and Orange County proud by defending our country,” DA Tony Rackauckas said as he stood in front of the memorial during a press conference Tuesday afternoon. “Many of these brave men and women have given up their lives while fighting for the freedoms that we’re here enjoying now.”

Santa Ana City Councilmember Juan Villegas, who, along with Rackauckas, is a veteran himself, called the vandalism a crime against the neighborhood’s culture and heritage.

Prosecutors said Cabrera, who they allege is a gang member, also tagged the exterior of a clothing store on First Street in the early morning hours of March 12. He is accused of carrying out both incidents on behalf of a street gang.

Cabrera was tied to the crimes after investigators recovered surveillance video from one of the scenes where the defendant’s license plate number was clearly visible, according to Santa Ana Police Chief David Valentin.

When officials interviewed Cabrera, who had already been arrested by another agency, he confessed to the vandalism, Valentin said.

It took the mural’s creator five years to complete the work, and the city is now raising money for the artist to restore the piece. So far, more than $11,000 has been raised, Villegas said.

Marine veteran Samuel Romero, 83, said Logan residents hope to expand the artwork to include numerous other local Mexican-American war veterans who didn’t make the initial cut.

“A lot of people here are proud of what they did,” he said. “A lot of them volunteered right of the bat.”

Cabrera is expected to appear in court on June 6 for a pre-trial hearing, officials said.

He could face a maximum possible sentence of seven years and eight months in state prison if convicted as charged.