ASU student admitted to spray painting pro-Nazi graffiti at Phoenix campus, records show

An Arizona State University student who was arrested after being suspected of spray-painting swastikas and other pro-Nazi graffiti on the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism’s campus in downtown Phoenix admitted to the act, according to court documents.

Court documents obtained by The Arizona Republic say ASU police arrested 27-year-old Denis Zyalik on Wednesday evening after reviewing surveillance camera footage and building card access readers. Footage showed Zyalik in the area where the vandalism occurred with a plastic bag and leaving the area without one.

Documents said officers approached Zyalik at a classroom in the school’s law building in downtown Phoenix and asked him to join them at a nearby police station to interview him about the graffiti, which he did. Zyalik later admitted to being behind the vandalism, documents said.

ASU police arrested Zyalik and submitted a charge of aggravated criminal damage, a Class 5 felony, to the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office. Documents said Zyalik was released on his own recognizance and is next scheduled to appear in Maricopa County Superior Court on Oct. 12.

Documents said Zyalik lived in Tempe.

Prior to Zyalik’s arrest, Rebecca Blatt, senior associate dean at the Cronkite School, sent an email to students Wednesday morning warning them about the graffiti and that it would be removed once ASU police had collected what it needed from the scene.

Blatt said the graffiti was spray painted on signage promoting a photo exhibit called “Relentless Courage” featuring work from photographers covering the war between Ukraine and Russia. Ukraine’s president, Volodymyr Zelensky, is Jewish.

The Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at the ASU Downtown Phoenix Campus on April 11, 2014. The building opened in 2008.

ASU President Michael Crow condemned the pro-Nazi vandalism in a written statement to The Arizona Republic.

“Let there be no confusion that while ASU vigorously protects freedom of expression for all members of our community, we recognize the difference between that constitutional right and activities orchestrated to provoke, incite or agitate with the intention of creating an environment of intimidation and fear,” Crow said. “We see those who perpetrate such actions under the cover of darkness for what they are: weak and hateful fear-mongers and cowards.”

An ASU spokesperson said the university had removed the graffiti by Wednesday afternoon. Court documents estimated the incident caused about $2,000 in property damage.

The spokesperson didn’t say if ASU would seek to expel Zyalik, noting that “legal and disciplinary processes” needed to be fulfilled before it could make a decision.

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