Artist Sues NYPD for Falsely Arresting Him as Banksy

Man claims Banksy was behind the smiley face graffiti he was arrested for creating.

Banksy, The Street Is in Play (2013), located on New York's Allen Street between Hester and Canal. Photo: Banksy, via Instagram.
Banksy, The Street Is in Play (2013), located on New York's Allen Street between Hester and Canal. Photo: Banksy, via Instagram.

A Brooklyn man is suing the NYPD after they arrested him for graffiti—street art that he claims was actually done by Banksy.

Richard Pfeiffer, 33, and his fiancé were in the East Village this past July when they stopped to admire a smiley face graffiti drawing. Soon after, police officers accused him of drawing the graffiti, with one cop claiming he saw Pfeiffer do it.

While Pfeiffer was found with a marker in his pocket, he claims that the tip did not match the line work of the image. He denied creating the piece, and demonstrated to the police that the work wouldn’t smudge when he touched it, and thus wasn’t fresh.

Nevertheless, Pfeiffer, who has no criminal record, was arrested and detained for 24 hours. The case was later dismissed in October.

While Banksy has successfully shielded his identity to date, rumors of his arrest pop up with some regularity (see Has Banksy Been Arrested Outside London? and Banksy Paints New Mural to Prove He’s Not in Jail). In the past, most Banksy-related arrests have occurred when others have vandalized his work, not when someone else has been accused of making it (see Utah Man Charged for Defacing Banksy Murals).

Pfieffer’s lawyer, Ilissa Brownstein, told the New York Daily News that as a trained artist “who is interested in many forms of art including street art,” her client had identified the piece as a Banksy. Now, Pfieffer is suing the city for false arrest.

The Banksy in question was apparently done outside the Third Rail Coffee shop at 159 Second Avenue near East 10th Street, but there don’t appear to be any photographs of the work online. It is not included in round-ups of street art made by the anonymous British street artist during his month-long October 2013 stint in New York on Untapped Cities or New York Magazine, or on Banksy’s official Instagram.

It would seem that Pfeiffer was clearly arrested for graffiti created by the hand of another, but whether or not it was really by Banksy remains unclear. The coffee shop opened in December 2013, and the owner assured Pfeiffer’s lawyer that the graffiti was already there at the time.

In his suit, Pfeiffer is asking for financial compensation for time lost at work (he claims to have missed 7 days at $45 an hour) and for humiliation suffered due to the incident. He claims that he has started taking the sleeping aids Ambien and Trazodone since his arrest.

A city spokesperson has assured the New York Post that “the lawsuit will be reviewed.”


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