San Diego protester faces vandalism charges for sidewalk chalk drawings

SAN DIEGO Thu Jun 27, 2013 11:27pm EDT

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SAN DIEGO (Reuters) - A protester is standing trial on criminal vandalism charges in San Diego, and faces a sentence of up to 13 years in prison if convicted, for a scribbling a series of anti-bank slogans in chalk on a city sidewalk.

Mayor Bob Filner has denounced the prosecution of Jeff Olson, 40, a man with no previous criminal record, as a waste of taxpayer money and an abuse of power that infringes on First Amendment free speech protections in the U.S. Constitution.

"This young man is being persecuted for thirteen counts of vandalism stemming from an expression of political protest that involved washable children's chalk on a city sidewalk," the mayor said last week in a memo to the City Council.

The city attorney, Jan Goldsmith, defended his pursuit of the case in remarks published on Thursday in the U-T San Diego news website, saying: "We prosecute vandalism and theft cases regardless of who the perpetrator or victim might be."

"We don't decide, for example, based upon whether we like or dislike banks," Goldsmith added. "That would be wrong under the law and such a practice by law enforcement would change our society in very damaging ways."

On Thursday, Superior Court Judge Howard Shore issued a gag order in the case, forbidding all parties from discussing the trial further. He previously ruled that Olson would not be permitted to invoke freedom of expression as a defense in the case.

Olson is charged with 13 misdemeanor counts of vandalism, each carrying a maximum penalty of one year in jail and a $1,000 fine, though he is not expected to receive as harsh a sentence as 13 consecutive years behind bars if found guilty.

He is accused of writing a series of protest slogans between February and August 2012 on sidewalks in front of Bank of America branches.

Olson has admitted to the graffiti protests, but said nothing he wrote was profane or vulgar and suggested his prosecution was politically motivated.

"I wrote, 'No thanks big banks.' I wrote, 'Shame on Bank of America,'" he told San Diego CBS television affiliate KFMB-TV. He told another local station, ABC affiliate KGTV: "If I had drawn a little girl's hopscotch squares on the street, we wouldn't be here today."

The mayor's office would not rule out the possibility that Filner might appear as a witness for Olson.

The Olson case has become the latest flashpoint in a deepening rift between Filner and Goldsmith, who was elected city attorney under the former mayor by promising to improve the office's ability to work with the city's top elected official.

The mayor and city attorney have clashed over medical marijuana dispensary crackdowns, tourism district funds, bond issues and the mayor's recent successful effort to cut $500,000 from the city attorney's budget.

(Reporting by Marty Graham; Editing by Steve Gorman and Eric Beech)

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Comments (5)
My_Opinion_7 wrote:
On Thursday, Superior Court Judge Howard Shore issued a gag order in the case, forbidding all parties from discussing the trial further.

Gag order this Superior Judge Howard Shore, you are not superior to the first amendment. I hope you try and prosecute all school kids that draw chalk on the sidewalks of your town.

“We don’t decide, for example, based upon whether we like or dislike banks,” Goldsmith added. “That would be wrong under the law and such a practice by law enforcement would change our society in very damaging ways.”

The damage now Mr Goldsmith is that kids your your town will be terrified to use chalk now and I would suggest all stores in your town should no longer sell chalk as it might get used on public sidewalks.

Jun 28, 2013 2:03am EDT  --  Report as abuse
tigermoq wrote:
I agree. Sadly it looks like junvenile court will be quite busy now prosecuting all of those chaulk wielding children…and whose to say that the sellers of chaulk should be prosecuted as well! Very, very sad state of affairs…throughout the entire political arena…not for justice and equality, but personal gain…..very sad.

Jun 28, 2013 7:47am EDT  --  Report as abuse
RichardJR wrote:
@My_Opinion_7 It’s not up to the judge who is and is not prosecuted, that is up the the city attorney. The judge could toss it out, but he is not the one who chose to prosecute, or is prosecuting this case.

I do happen to agree that this is way over the top and should be tossed out by the way.

Jun 28, 2013 1:16pm EDT  --  Report as abuse
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