Occupier Faces Decade in Jail for Sidewalk Chalk Message

Occupier Faces Decade in Jail for Sidewalk Chalk Message

San Diego Reader: Jan Goldsmith’s job as City Attorney is to represent the City of San Diego. In addition, it appears as if his office is also fully prepared to stand up for the little…rather, the big banks. On Tuesday, the City Attorney’s Office will make their case for prosecution of a 40-year-old man for writing anti-bank slogans in water soluble chalk on the sidewalk outside of three Bank of America branches in Mid-City.

This week, North Park resident Jeff Olson will appear in court to fight a charge of 13 counts of misdemeanor vandalism charges for writing protest slogans in chalk from February to August 2012. The charges could send Olson to jail for 13 years and put him on the hook for $13,000 in restitution to the City and to Bank of America. Olson, a former staffer for a U.S. Senator from Washington, began to get involved in political activism around the time that Occupy Wall Street was in full swing. But for him, sleeping in a tent downtown or singing along to protest songs was not the right strategy.

It was October 3, 2011 when Olson first appeared outside of the Bank of America on University Avenue in North Park with a homemade sign. Eight days later, gearing up for National Bank Transfer Day, Olson and his partner, Stephen Daniels, were confronted by Darell Freeman, Vice President of Bank of America’s Global Corporate Security. Freeman, a former police officer, accused Olson and Daniels of running a business outside of the bank. The altercation was reported by Reader contributor David Batterson who happened to be at the protest that day.

Undeterred, Olson continued his protests outside of the Bank of America. In February 2012, he came across a box of “Creatology” chalk at the CVS Pharmacy in North Park. “I thought it was a perfect way to get my message out there. Much better than handing out leaflets or holding a sign.” For the next six months, Olson visited the bank a few days a week in the early morning hours. He scribbled slogans on the sidewalk such as “Stop big banks,” and “Stop Bank Blight.com.” One day he drew Octopus arms protruding out from the bank walls. At the ends of the arms, stuck to its tentacles, were wads of cash. As the election neared Olson put down the stick of chalk and became involved campaigning for then Congressman Bob Filner and against his opponent Carl DeMaio. Filner won. The economy rebounded. Olson’s political activism waned. He moved on. Unfortunately for him, the same can not be said for Freeman and the City Attorney’s Office.

On August 28, Olson was contacted by Officer Bill Miles from San Diego’s Gang Unit.

Months later, on January 7, 2013 Freeman pressed Miles and Goldsmith’s attorneys to take action against Olson.

Two minutes later, Kukas responded. “Thank you for checking in on this case. It is still under review. I will give you an update by the end of the week.”

No update came. Ten days later, Freeman was back on the case.

Then on April 15, Deputy City Attorney Paige Hazard contacted Freeman with the good news. “I wanted to let you know that we will be filing 13 counts of vandalism as a result of the incidents you reported.”

A heavy handed decision? Not according to the City Attorney’s Office. This from a court document filed by Hazard. “The People do not fear that this reading of section 594(A) will make criminals of every child using chalk. Chalk festivals may still be permitted. Kids acting without malice may still engage in their art. Circumventing the rules, without permission, under the color of night, and now waiving a banner of the First Amendment, does not negate the fact that defacement occurred, a private business suffered real and substantial monetary damages, and Defendant is responsible.” Tom Tosdal, a Solana Beach-based lawyer, is defending Olson pro-bono. Tosdal says he could not turn down the case.

Olson says he is ready for trial but that doesn’t mean he is not nervous.