An arrest warrant has been issued for former Pittsburgh Steelers running back Baron Batch on 30 counts of criminal mischief involving graffiti, Pittsburgh police confirmed Monday.
Batch has won national acclaim for the large murals — often depicting elephants — that he paints without notice in public spaces across Pittsburgh. He has said the murals are meant to promote community togetherness.
Batch has left his artwork — originals of which can sell for hundreds of dollars — on at least four garages in the city, NBC station WPXI reported. Most recently, his work was discovered along the Three Rivers Heritage Trail, the city's Hot Metal Bridge and a parking lot.
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But to the Pittsburgh police graffiti unit, the paintings are vandalism that it says has caused damage of more than $16,000 so far. Police said they plan to serve the warrant "within the next few days."
Batch retired from the National Football League to start Studio AM, an art studio and design business, after the Steelers cut him in 2013. He quickly found success, and since then, he's been the featured artist at the Lubbock, Texas, Arts Festival and curated a series of art and music events for the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra.
"I think people thought I was the crazy artist who lived on the hill," Batch told the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review last year. "I wanted to be known as Baron Batch, not just No. 25."
Batch said in a statement that complaints about his public work were fueled by a "very loud minority" of critics whom he accused of using "fear tactics" to silence him.
He said he had spoken with the executive director of Friends of The Riverfront, which maintains the Three Rivers Heritage Trail, and had apologized for "breaking the rules."
"None of it was meant to be disrespectful but simply to inspire," Batch said. "To the people who feel that I disrespected the trail, I am sorry, I did break the rules, however I am very thankful and proud of the city for the support and encouragement everyone had, as the loud minority threw stones into the dark."
"I am not a bad person, but I am a renegade," he said. "The inspiration is always worth it."
Alex Johnson is a reporter and editor for NBC News based in Los Angeles.