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Almost a year ago, city officials united in outrage over damage to Balboa Park’s iconic lily pond and promised those responsible would be brought to justice. But that’s not going to happen: The case is now closed and no one will be prosecuted.
The city attorney’s office ended its investigation May 31 after determining there was “no evidence as to the identity of individuals engaged in vandalism that resulted in property damage,” said Michael Giorgino, a spokesman for the city attorney’s office. “Although there was some evidence of individuals involved in promoting the event, our prosecutors found that evidence to be insufficient to prove a crime or obtain an order of restitution for vandalism committed by others.”
In the big picture, he said, prosecutors “determined there was not sufficient evidence to prove a criminal case beyond a reasonable doubt.”
The damage to the lily pond on the night of Aug. 11, 2012, was one of the biggest local news stories of the year and even became fodder in the mayoral campaign.
Here’s what happened: Thanks to word spread through Facebook, hundreds of locals gathered around midnight for what was to be a harmless mass water-gun fight at Balboa Park. The crowd met at the park’s grand fountain, but it wasn’t working so they went to the lily pond in search of water. And then a raucous water-gun fight began, much of it captured in video and photos by thrilled participants.
Some participants trampled plants around the pond and even jumped into it. They left trash at the scene, and the pond’s koi and turtles were supposedly “greatly stressed.” (The fish weren’t killed, however.)
No cops seems to have been present, although U-T San Diego reported that police knew about the event, which had been held a year earlier with no problems.
Stoked by extensive media coverage, elected officials were furious. “We will hold those who did this accountable for their actions — which may be criminal — and for every penny it costs to return this area to its original beauty,” then-Mayor Jerry Sanders declared. Councilman Todd Gloria tweeted that “those responsible for this destruction will be held responsible.”
The lily pond damage also crept into the mayoral campaign. Then-Rep. Bob Filner’s campaign accused the partner of his rival, then-Councilman Carl DeMaio, of orchestrating the event. He didn’t, prompting one of DeMaio’s operatives called Filner a “a lying sack of marbles.”
An investigation began after the damage was discovered. Well, sort of. According to U-T San Diego, the Police Department assigned two detectives to investigate the case. But as of January, they hadn’t talked to the local writer who’d written extensively about the case, taken video and photographs and posted a diatribe about the event and reckless media sensationalism on YouTube. An investigator did talk to the writer after the VOSD report.
Donations helped fund repair and renovation at the lily pond, which was estimated to suffer $10,000 worth of damage. The work was finished by February.
The investigation then ended a few weeks ago in May, a few months shy of the one-year deadline for misdemeanor charges to be filed.