City Hall

'Penis Man' Speaks, Says He's Just a Copycat: 'I Thought It Was a Good Message'

Dustin Shomer has collected more than $2,000 for his legal defense from a fundraising site.
Dustin Shomer has collected more than $2,000 for his legal defense from a fundraising site. GoFundMe

Dustin Shomer, arrested last week on suspicion of being the prolific "Penis Man" graffiti tagger, tells Phoenix New Times he's just a "copycat."

"I'm not the original," Shomer said in a brief phone interview on Monday. "There are hundreds of copycats with very distinctively different handwriting."

Yet, as Shomer admitted to New Times and to police, he did do some of the taggings. Police have his fingerprints from one scene and video surveillance from other spots he painted, he said.

But he insisted his crimes did not justify the heavy-handed raid of his Phoenix condominium on Thursday.

Shomer's arrest in Phoenix followed weeks of publicity surrounding the graffiti tags. The words "Penis Man" scrawled with spray paint had appeared on numerous buildings and objects — mainly in Tempe near Arizona State University — since at least late November. In the last couple of weeks, the "Penis Man" tags showed up on high-profile locations like the Tempe municipal building, historic Hayden Flour Mill, the landmark "A" on Hayden Butte, and porta-potties at the Tempe Town Lake.

Police told New Times on Thursday that they had launched an investigation and intended to apprehend the tagger. They arrested Shomer less than an hour later at his west Phoenix home, but didn't tell the public or news media about it until after Shomer posted Facebook messages on Saturday about his ordeal.

Police want Shomer, who's 38, charged with one felony count of criminal trespassing at a critical public service facility, eight counts of misdemeanor criminal damage-defacing, and 16 felony counts of aggravated criminal damage-defacing a school.

click to enlarge Tagging the front door of Tempe's municipal building may have been the final straw for authorities. - CITY OF TEMPE / FACEBOOK
Tagging the front door of Tempe's municipal building may have been the final straw for authorities.
City of Tempe / Facebook
Shomer's Facebook page says he previously studied Japanese Language and Literature at ASU, and has also studied "economic history/Japanese Language" at Waseda University, which is in Tokyo.

According to court records obtained by New Times on Monday, police believe Shomer wrote "Penis Man" at several locations in Tempe and Phoenix between January 19 and 21, including "local restaurants in Tempe, Tempe City Hall, 'A' Mountain, fenced public water towers, and 15 separate locations on ASU Tempe Campus and one ASU Phoenix campus."

Shomer was identified by a witness who saw him spray painting near a construction site at Sixth Street and Veterans Way before fleeing in a Honda CRV, records state. Police matched the vehicle to a "known associate" of Shomer's, and also obtained surveillance video of him that matched known photographs of him. That led police to serve an arrest warrant for Shomer at his home near Camelback Road and 67th Avenue at 5:30 p.m. on January 23.

Shomer said police seized his phone and laptop computer during the raid. He told New Times he was calling from his father's phone. (The phone number matched that of another man with the last name of Shomer.)

"I was having a chat with somebody on Facebook, having my coffee," Shomer explained. "I woke up late morning, early afternoon. KNOCK, KNOCK, KNOCK. Tempe police! Open up, or we're going to break down the door!"

Shomer opened the door and said he was greeted by at least five uniformed officers "with SWAT patches" and another five or more plainclothes officers. Those figures are different than what he wrote Saturday on Facebook, where he stated that he was arrested by "25 heavily armed SWAT officers." But Shomer maintains that numerous vehicles were in the condo complex's parking lot, and that at least 25 officers total were on the scene.

When they stormed into his home, officers pointed a shotgun at his face and an assault rifle, possibly an AR-15, at his chest, he said.

click to enlarge New "Penis Man" graffiti has been rising in Tempe. - CAROLYN STERN
New "Penis Man" graffiti has been rising in Tempe.
Carolyn Stern
"I thought, All that for a 98-cent can of spray paint?" he said. "I take responsibility for what I did (but) I don't think it was a felony."

Police could have sent two officers to his home if they wanted to arrest him, he said.

"I'm not an idiot — I'm not gonna resist," Shomer said. "They're obviously trying to make an example of me."

In the booking sheet, however, police wrote that Shomer might flee if released on bond because of "history of resisting arrest, anti-government beliefs." Court records indicate he was released from jail after the "installation of electronic monitoring equipment" — typically an ankle monitor.

It's unclear at this time what that information is based on. Shomer has a 2018 conviction for marijuana possession on his record, but no other local convictions, online records show.

Two graffiti detectives from Tempe and Phoenix interviewed Shomer after he was taken to a Tempe police station.

"They seemed like they were Penis Man fans," Shomer said.

According to court records, Shomer admitted to cops that he spray-painted the name on "A" Mountain, the flour mill, water tanks, Chick-Fil-A, and "construction sites and other locations through Tempe and Phoenix." He identified still images of the graffiti as being his handiwork, records state, and he identified himself in still images taken from video of him doing the spray-painting.

"Dustin admitted he knew writing at all these locations was against the law and he never had permission to vandalize any of these locations," records state.

Police estimated the cost of the damage as $8,000.

Shomer told New Times he got the idea for the taggings after talking with some people in a Tempe bar about the "original" Penis Man tagger.

So why did he paint the name around town?

"I thought it was a good message," he said, without elaborating. Shomer said he'd better not say too much more, since he hopes to hire a lawyer for his defense. He believes he can do that now that he's raised more than $2,000 in a GoFundMe campaign.

"I'm broke and have lost my job," he wrote on the fundraising site. "I need help with legal fees to defend myself against Tempe PD. I've got bad PTSD and had an AR-15 in my face 2 days ago. That shit was real scary."
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Ray Stern has worked as a newspaper reporter in Arizona for more than two decades. He's won numerous awards for his reporting, including the Arizona Press Club's Don Bolles Award for Investigative Journalism.
Contact: Ray Stern