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“Penis Man” sprang up as an unlikely counterculture hero last year, after a mystery graffiti tagger began spray-painting those two iconic words on prominent local buildings, including Tempe’s City Hall.
But now it’s time for the Phoenix man behind the virile vandalism to pay the bill.
Dustin Shomer, a 39-year-old student of the Japanese language with some offbeat political ideas, was sentenced this week to three years of supervised probation and ordered to pay $8,000 in restitution for the damage. A deferred, four-month jail sentence will be erased from the sentence if he completes 500 hours of community service, according to the terms of a plea deal he signed in December.
Shomer didn’t respond to messages seeking comment.
In an interview last year with Phoenix New Times, Shomer described himself as a prolific copycat, not the original “Penis Man” tagger. Police confirmed that Shomer was not the only one scrawling the name on public and private buildings. But he was certainly the boldest.
The graffiti began turning up around town in November 2019, and especially in Tempe, home to Arizona State University. Social media users began posting photos of the vandalism, which led to a popular ABC15 News broadcast piece about the taggings that caused the Penis Man legend to grow.
Tempe police began actively looking for the suspect after he became much more active in January, spray-painting Tempe’s City Hall, porta-potties at the Town Lake, ASU dorms, the large “A” on Hayden Butte, the historic Hayden Flour Mill, and various businesses. In Phoenix, he tagged a city of Phoenix building, a Curaleaf dispensary, and the Arizona Democratic Party headquarters. (Six months later, the latter building was destroyed in a fire set by a Democratic activist.)
The tagger also became more political.
“Rents down, wages up!” he wrote on windows of ASU’s Music West building. “PENIS MAN fuck venture capital up!”
Social media users, fueled by new photos of the handiwork, ate it up. “I’m willing to support whoever wins the dem primary as long as they have penis man’s endorsement,” one tweeter wrote.
Tempe police arrested Shomer on January 23 but didn’t tell the public about it until after Shomer posted on his Facebook site that “25 heavily armed SWAT officers” had stormed his Phoenix condo. That turned out to be an exaggeration, but Tempe police later confirmed the raid involved about 15 officers, including a K9 officer and four helmet-wearing tactical-team members.
Police hadn’t caught Shomer red-handed, but they did claim to find paint that was still fresh and wet in his backpack. It seemed Shomer had taken his superhero status a bit far: Cops also found a pair of gloves in the condo, one with the letter “P” on it, the other with the letter “M.”
In their report, Tempe police said Shomer confessed he was influenced to write the graffiti after hearing from friends about earlier Penis Man taggings in the city.
“Dustin explained that writing PENIS MAN all over the city was about starting a movement against the investors and developers who are moving into Tempe and Phoenix and causing housing and rent that is no longer affordable,” the report states.
In his interview with New Times, Shomer described himself as an “unemployed slacker and musician” who was fired from a customer service job a month before the MLK-weekend tags. He previously lived in Germany for nine years and has a degree in Japanese from ASU.
He expressed irrational ideas about the taggings, claiming that “people from my childhood are trying to kill me” and speculating that local politicians were behind the original taggings that came before him. He said he was getting help for mental health issues.
He was charged with a total of 33 felonies and misdemeanors, facing a theoretical 24 years in prison if convicted on all counts. Thirty-one of the counts were dropped after he pleaded guilty to aggravated criminal damage/defacing a school and attempt to commit trespassing in a critical public service facility. Both are felonies.
Superior Court Judge Teresa Sanders sentenced Shomer on Tuesday. If he completes all the terms of his probation, including paying restitution, the felonies will get bumped down to misdemeanors and he won’t serve four months in jail. He’s also been ordered to seek mental health services.
“On the advice of his attorney, the defendant stated the police reports are an accurate description of the offense,” says the case presentence report. “The defendant believes the stipulations in the plea agreement are fair. These are his first felony offenses and he did not mean to harm anybody. He was having a manic episode and he does not believe jail would be an appropriate sanction for that.”
The $8,000 in restitution for the clean-up work, paid at a rate of $25-35 monthly by Shomer, will go to: the city of Tempe, Vela Apartments, Hotel Best Western, Aura Watermark Apartments, U-Haul, Fenix Devlopment, ASU, Muse Apartments, Urban Living on Fillmore, Chick-fil-A, Taylor Morrison Apartments, Arthaus, Arizona Democratic Building, Curaleaf AZ Midtown, and the city of Phoenix.
New Times has spotted a couple of Penis Man graffiti tags in the past year — all small-scale stuff on low-profile locations. Shomer’s experience with the law has apparently left others less willing to promote the idea that, as several people tweeted last year, “We are all Penis Man.”
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