Four University of Utah students charged with criminal mischief after BYU's Cougar statue is vandalized

Suspects caught red-handed after returning to scene of alleged crime for selfies

Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune Pictures of the Brigham Young University (BYU) for future use.

Provo • Four University of Utah students who were literally caught red-handed 15 minutes after allegedly spray-painting two red “U” logos and a white smiling face on the cougar statue at Brigham Young University’s football stadium almost got away with the rivalry-inspired act of vandalism, according to a report filed by BYU police.

However, the students — two males, 18 and 20, and two females, 18 and 19 — returned to the scene of the crime to get selfies and other photographs of their artwork and were arrested by police in the early morning hours of Sept. 9, the day of the BYU-Utah football game.

The cops had been told by a witness who viewed the alleged vandalism to be on the lookout for a blue Volkswagen Beetle with Utah license plates and a University of Utah sticker in the upper right rear window.

Officer Carlos Acosta of BYU Police Department wrote after interviewing all four suspects that after leaving a hotel parking lot south of the stadium, the suspects said they wanted to “check out their work” and drove by the stadium northbound on Canyon Road “so they could take pictures in front of it.”

They were stopped by police and all four admitted to coming up with the plan to paint the cougar red while at a new-student orientation at the University of Utah a few weeks before the game.

Provo City Attorney Stephen Schreiner said all four suspects were charged with criminal mischief, a Class B misdemeanor, and summons have been issued for them to appear in person before a Provo City Justice Court judge and enter a plea.

All four suspects currently live in Salt Lake City, according to court documents, but three of the four went to high schools outside the state of Utah — in Idaho, Florida and California. None of the four suspects has a past criminal record in the state of Utah, a search of court records show.

Schreiner said if convicted punishment will likely include fines of “a couple hundred dollars each,” but no jail time. It is not known whether BYU will seek restitution; School maintenance personnel had scrubbed the paint off the cougar by noon that day.

Acosta wrote in the report that all four suspects set out to paint the cougar after parking in the Super 8 Motel lot near the stadium, but the female driver “was too scared” and returned to the vehicle while the other three did the deed.

When the three students returned to the car, “they were all saying, ‘we did it!’ and they wanted to drive by it to see it on the way out,” Acosta noted.

Acosta said he could smell “a strong odor of spray paint” when he initially approached the vehicle and the two rear passengers pulled out two red spray paint cans and a white spray paint can when they were asked why.

“All [three] passengers had red spray paint on their hands,” Acosta wrote.

Further investigation turned up a stencil of a block letter U. in the trunk of the car, and white cloth respirator masks in the suspects’ pockets.