Timothy Merriam, homeless and known to police, went on a costly and hateful binge over the past month, not only slashing the tires of more than 100 rental bikes on Miami Beach, but etching swastikas onto five vehicles, police said.
Though he was quickly captured and charged with damaging the Citi Bikes, a public program that places bikes at several pickup stations around the beach, it took police another week to find surveillance and link Merriam to the defacing of the five vehicles.
Tuesday, police said they caught up with Merriam, 61, still in jail at the Turner Guilford Knight correction center on the earlier charge, where his statements led them to believe he committed what could turn out to be a hate crime. Merriam hadn’t been charged with a crime stemming from the swastikas by late Tuesday, but police said he’s facing at least five counts of criminal mischief.
At the jail, “he made statements that led detectives to conclude that he is the person responsible for the swastika etchings on the vehicles and for seven additional instances of slashing of tires on racks at Citi Bikes,” Miami Beach police spokesman Ernesto Rodriguez said.
On Feb. 26, police charged Merriam with criminal mischief for the tire slashings after studying surveillance video and finding him with a sharp pair of scissors. It was the same day and in the same area — near 13th Street and Pennsylvania Avenue — where the swastikas were etched into the vehicles.
The carving of swastikas on the vehicles was particularly troublesome to Miami Beach residents, who like many other large Jewish populated areas around the country, have had to deal with repeated prank calls of bomb threats at Jewish centers and schools. So police fanned out after the incident, making the crime a top priority.
Kim Rosenfeld, whose Range Rover was vandalized, called it “disgusting” and a “hate crime.”
And Doug Eaton, whose wife discovered her Range Rover defaced as she was leaving for the gym, told the Miami Herald it was “offensive.” So did the family’s car dealer, Warren Henry Land Rover, which picked up the Rover on Friday after offering to fix it at no cost, Eaton said.
“They didn’t know we weren’t Jewish, but a majority of the neighborhood is Jewish and it was designed to offend them. It’s a very offensive sign.”
The vandalism comes at a time when anti-Semitism is on the rise. In the last two months, more than 50 Jewish Community Centers in 26 states and one Canadian province received 68 bomb threats over the phone, according to the JCC Association of North America. Earlier this month, a swastika was spray-painted on the side of a car parked across from a home in Boca Raton. And the threats continued Tuesday, when a Jewish school in Davie had to be evacuated after another bomb scare.
On Sunday, more than 100 Jewish cemetery headstones were damaged at Mount Carmel cemetery in Philadelphia. This damage came only days after more than 150 headstones were vandalized at a Jewish cemetery in Missouri.