Detective Alphonso Sloan smiles as he recounts his big fish story. Montano was the one that got away. In his career he owed more than $750,000 in restitution to the city of Pittsburgh and had been sentenced to up to five years in prison, but only did two and a half. He had been caught and arrested three times. His aliases included: Red Dog, Israel, Jeremiah, and his most famous, MFONE. His career spanned over two decades. One week after Montano beat Detective Sloan in court, he died of an overdose. Thus ended the reign of one of the greatest graffiti artists in the Pittsburgh area, and began his legend. Sloan respected, and even admired the work of Montano, but like all duos on opposite sides of the law, he had to do his job.
Alphonso Sloan began his own career as an artist in the Pittsburgh area in the 80’s. In middle school he loved to draw. His drawings were spectacular and he and his friends began posting graffiti around Pittsburgh. It was there that he ran with the YFA (Young Fresh Artists). As he got older his art, and nicknames, became more grand. Big Daddy Sloan, as a senior in high school, ran with the TVA (The Versatile Artists). These two crews he ran with were the first graffiti crews in Pittsburgh. They not only put their own art up around Pittsburgh for free (this is actually vandalism), but they were also artists getting paid and permission to leave their art. Sloan wanted to make sure that we knew, “We call them vandals because they don’t have permission to leave their work. You’re gonna piss someone off with these names though; the community if we call them Artists, and the Artists if we call them vandals.” For the work he wasn’t paid for, Alphonso would sometimes be seen, but he was never caught. “I know if the cops pull up, I gotta run. It adds a whole new dimension,” Sloan said. “If someone gave permission, there would be no excitement.” The irony was, if he was caught it was the same force his parents worked for that would lock him up. His mother was an officer with the city police for 36 years. His stepfather was a Housing Authority police officer.
In 1993 Alphonso graduated from the Art Institute of Pittsburgh, and to this day still utilizes those skills. In 1995 he joined the Pittsburgh Police. By the 2000’s the graffiti situation in Pittsburgh had gotten way out of hand. Alphonso was known to be an artist and in 2006 was asked to join a three person task force put together to try to stem the spread of graffiti. Unfortunately, due to budget requirements and a higher need for manpower elsewhere, the taskforce was disbanded in 2012. Then, in 2015 Alphonso and Braden Seese, were asked by Mayor Peduto to run the new taskforce. Seese left in 2018 leaving Alphonso to do the work of three people, but now due to the relationships he’s built up in the community he’s able to accomplish this on his own. He also tries to steer other people who tag and put up street art to focus those skills and put them to better use.
In 2016 Sloan arrested his highest profile vandal, and as he put it, “He told on himself”. Baron Batch was a former running back for the Pittsburgh Steelers. After he retired in 2013 he started spray painting his art around Pittsburgh. But as Alphonso said, if no one gives you permission to do it, it’s vandalism. Batch vandalized the Pittsburgh riverfront, but put it up on social media. He would take photos of the art and let people find it. His work was distinctive and Sloan was soon put on the case. The thing was, Batch took credit. All told there were 30 counts of criminal mischief for over $16,000 worth of damages. Batch, to his credit, when confronted said “Yup, I did it”. He paid $30,000 in restitution and then the strangest thing happened. Sloan and Batch worked together. They worked together on several projects and the main one was at the Space Gallery where together with some local teens they painted an incredible mural. It features a large red heart, held by two hands, and encouraging words such as "power," "positive", and "unique."
Alphonso is proud of his relationship with Batch. He speaks kindly of the vandals throughout the city saying, “They’re violent, they’re angry, they just want to share their art. Unfortunately their art is vandalism. I like them, I really don’t want to lock most of them up because, you know, they are good people. But it’s my job.” When I asked him, if money was no object, what would you ask the city of Pittsburgh for? His immediate response was a place for the vandals to become artists. He said he wanted, “To let them showcase their work. A place we can see what they do and no one would ruin it with tags and no one would get in trouble.”
With that he took me to one such place. Not provided by the city mind you, this location was purchased by a private individual. Originally it was a location where people would come, tag, throw up some art, and get arrested. While traveling to the spot I asked Alphonso for an address or a location so I could include it in the article, he said “Gregory, this is an extremely dangerous neighborhood, I strongly recommend against that.” After the property was purchased it became a showcase for artists from around the country. The weekend of June 11-13 was one such weekend. When we were there taking photos the week after, one of the artists, LSD, just happened to be driving by and stopped to tell us a bit about the event.
“My boy hit me up and said ‘yo! Get down here! Everybody pick’n they spots’ so I left out of work and got here, the only spot I could get was this one right here.” and LSD pointed to the back of the metal door that sat astride the entrance. His work was the face of a lion and he was very proud. He showed us around and how the artists came from “New York, North Carolina, and a few other East Coast states”. They would go in, claim their spots, then after all the spots were claimed people got to work.
Detective Sloan loves his job, loves his art, and loves the fact that he was able to do both things at once. While he gave me the tour of the city he loves, down the dangerous, and not so dangerous, streets, he was waved to, signaled to, and even stopped by the locals. He smiled from ear to ear when discussing some of the “Greats” of the Pittsburgh graffiti scene, past and present. He was somber when discussing people like MFONE and Showtime who had passed on. He continues to try to get the youth of Pittsburgh to make the right choice, but has said he will arrest them if he has to. He still paints, prints tees, and makes sure art is a big part of his life. He also has his website where he does custom orders for shirts and fine art. www.methodlabstdios.com Type your paragraph here.
by Gregory Norris
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