EL PASO, Texas --The graffiti artist arrested for leaving messages and hanging mannequins climbed towering billboards "like Spider-Man," according to employees at a business where security cameras captured images of the suspect in action.
“Like a Spider Man, yes,” said Nancy Martinez, an employee at L-Tune, an auto shop at the foot of one of the billboards that was vandalized.
“There’s no way you can go all the way up there,” said Martinez, pointing to the catwalk near the top of the billboard.
But the suspect is no superhero to police who charged Ryan Edward Jean, 25, from Las Vegas, with two counts of graffiti, two counts of criminal trespass and one count of criminal mischief with a bond of $21,800.
Jean posted bond and was released Tuesday.
“Several panicked phone calls were made to 911 regarding the phrase, ‘Plata o Plomo,' hand painted in large white letters,” according to a police report about the billboard vandalism.
The phrase translated means "silver a lead," a cartel warning to government officials or police in Mexico to accept a bribe and work for the cartel or get a bullet.
The message included a mannequin in a business suit hanging from a noose off the billboard.
“You hear about it right across the border all the time," said Arturo Fierro, Jr., owner of the auto repair shop near the vandalized billboards.
Jean painted “Dying for Drugs” on a DEA billboard that was offering half a million dollars in reward for information leading to the capture of accused drug trafficker Rafael Caro Quintero.
Police say Jean has “no connection to Mexican cartels” and he vandalized the billboards “to make a political statement.”
Police in Las Vegas found similar hanging mannequins on billboards in 2012, including one that read “Dying for a job,” as part of an occupy Wall street protest.
But the activist's message was lost in translation on the border where drug cartels hang real bodies from bridges in Mexico.
“I don’t know what he was thinking. I don’t know what he got out of it,” said Carlos Enriquez, a mechanic at L-Tune.
Jean could get time behind bars because one of the charges is a felony.
Federal agencies diverted resources to help El Paso police investigate whether the billboards were a real threat or merely graffiti.
The FBI’s forensic team in El Paso used a fingerprint found on one of the mannequins to identify Jean, but police did not say why his fingerprints were in the database.
He was arrested at the airport Sunday before he could board a plane back to Las Vegas. A police SWAT team was at the airport when he was taken into custody because at that point it was “still unknown what the intent of the messages was,” according to a statement released to the media.
Authorities say he was in town for a gathering of graffiti and street artists.