NORTH BENNINGTON — Police are seeking information from the public as they investigate the spray-painting of "offensive and racist graffiti" at the Lake Paran Fishing Access Area earlier this month.
Local and state authorities said the graffiti contained language that is racist against African-Americans, as well as offensive, sexually explicit illustrations. Spray-painted on the boat ramp, trees, signs and stones, the graffiti have since been painted over.
The Vermont Fish & Wildlife Department, which manages the fishing access area, is "saddened and shocked at this public property being damaged in such a way," according to a statement by Commissioner Louis Porter, head of the department.
"Our lands and waters belong to all Vermonters, and all are welcome to enjoy fish and wildlife on them," Porter said in a message on the department's Facebook page.
The department learned of the graffiti's presence on Jan. 13 through the Bennington Police Department, which received a call about it.
"This is the first time I've seen racist graffiti at any of our sites that I can remember," said Mike Wichrowski, the department's land and facilities manager, who oversees Vermont's 196 access areas.
The North Bennington Highway Department along with community service workers from the state Department of Corrections painted over the graffiti within a day of the police discovery. The fish and wildlife department will have the graffiti removed once the weather warms up, and snow and ice can no longer get in the way of workers, Wichrowski said.
The person or group who made the graffiti can be charged with unlawful mischief, said Chief Paul Doucette of the Bennington Police Department, who added that the offense could rise to a felony depending on the extent of the property damage.
The fish and wildlife department also has "very specific rules" on what people are permitted to do in its access areas, Wichrowski. Violations carry civil penalties or fines.
Bennington police, who are jointly investigating the incident with fish and wildlife wardens, have "no solid leads" yet, Doucette said. Investigators are now asking the public to share whatever information they have.
Doucette said Bennington police and state officials decided not to publicize the incident until Monday — through the fish and wildlife department's Facebook post — because they wanted time to find or receive leads.
But there is no surveillance video of the fishing access area or any evidence left behind, such as fingerprints or DNA, Doucette said.
Bennington police Sgt. Jason Burnham said they had no definite suspect at this point.
Sgt. Travis Buttle, a warden who is investigating the case, said the process can be difficult and drawn out when there are no witnesses.
Anyone with information on the incident can contact Buttle at (802) 442-5421 or (802) 777-6281, as well as Burnham at at (802) 442-1030.
Contact Tiffany Tan at firstname.lastname@example.org, @tiffgtan on Twitter or 802-447-7567 ext. 122.