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‘He Wanted to Get Caught’: Indiana Man Pleads Guilty to Defacing Washington Monument, and Lawyer Calls the Crime a ‘Cry for Help’

Shaun Deaton is wearing a blue shirt and hast dark brown hair as he is seen in front of a courthouse.

Shaun Deaton

The Indiana man who was caught in the act of defacing the Washington Monument has admitted to committing the crime and says that his actions were a “cry for help.”

Shaun Deaton, 44, was caught by U.S. Park Police using red paint to write out a profane complaint about the U.S. government on Sept. 20, 2022, at around 7:30 p.m.

“Have U been fucked by this,” he wrote. “Gov says tough shit.”

Red paint on the Washington Monument spells out: "Have U been fucked by this. Gov says tough shit."

via U.S. Park Police

Deaton pleaded guilty Monday to one count of Destruction of Government property. The misdemeanor is punishable by up to one year behind bars and a fine of up to $100,000, followed by up to one year of supervised release. He appeared before U.S. Magistrate Judge Moxila Upadhyaya, who conducted the colloquy to ensure that Deaton’s plea was willing and voluntary, although U.S. District Judge Emmet Sullivan is also overseeing the case.

Deaton, who at one point had completed one year of a Ph.D. program, admitted to having travelled to the Washington Monument on the National Mall and using paint that had a chemical component that “would have made it much more difficult to remove,” according to prosecutor Joshua Gold.

Deaton was apprehended by U.S. Park Police who were in the process of maintaining the monument; the defendant was holding the paint brush in his hand at the time, and red paint was on his clothes and body, Gold also said.

The plea agreement estimates a sentence range of four to 10 months, given his criminal history and acceptance of responsibility for the offense.

Deaton’s lawyer, Assistant Federal Public Defender Maria Jacob, had filed a motion for Deaton to be sentenced immediately after entering his plea, but the government pushed back on that request, saying that it believed a presentence report would be instructive.

“This is a rare case,” Jacob said in an effort to convince Upadhyaya to issue a sentence on Monday, adding that Deaton’s “unique circumstances call for it.”

“This is a case where Mr. Deaton went to the Washington Monument as a cry for help,” Jacob said. “He had no prior criminal behaviors that would suggest he was doing it for any other reason. He did it at a time where it would be easy for him to get caught. He wanted to get caught. He did it with red paint and while he was painting he was arrested.”

Jacob noted that Deaton “does not have a residence” and that he has been essentially “roaming the streets of D.C.” She said that Deaton struggles with a “severe” disease but has been denied Social Security and disability assistance. He has also been unable to get a job and has not been able to get into a homeless shelter despite repeated attempts.

“He’s not someone that I think the court needs to worry about in the future,” Jacob said. “It’s clear he wasn’t trying to hurt anybody, and he specifically chose an inanimate object to make his point.”

“The Washington Monument,” Upadhyaya noted.

“I understand, Your Honor,” Jacob said, adding that her client is remorseful and repeating that Deaton “was just trying to get some help.”

Gold said that the government “is sympathetic to the defendant’s position,” but reiterated the prosecution’s request to know more about Deaton before making its sentencing recommendation.

“People feel very strongly about the Washington Monument, the symbol that it is,” Gold said. “This is not just a case about personal deterrence. It’s also about general deterrence, not having people coming and writing on our monuments and other cherished national monuments.”

Upadhyaya said that she would order a presentence investigation, but would see if there was a way for it to be expedited. She set a status conference for Dec. 1, noting that if a report has been done by then, the conference could be converted to a sentencing hearing.

Alberto Luperon contributed to this story.

[Image via screengrab/NBC Washington.]

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