We previously discussed the case of Jeff Olson, Chalk Menace. Olson, 40, was charged with an excessive 13 counts for writing a protest on the sidewalk in front of a Bank of America location. A former aide to the U.S. Senator from Washington, Olson used water-soluble statements like “Stop big banks,” and “Stop Bank Blight.com” outside Bank of America branches last year to protest the company’s practices. The bank’s security contractor (a former police officer) demanded charges from the police and prosecutor who hit the protester with charges that would have allowed 13 years in prison. After Olson was dragged into court, the judge barred him from even mentioned terms like “free speech” or “the first amendment.” I am happy to report that a California jury made quick work of this excessive prosecution and acquitted Olson. It appears that, even with the gag of the court, the jurors could recognize free speech when they saw it.
Olson and his partner had been campaigning to get people to take their money out of the bank. This campaign led to a confrontation with Darell Freeman, vice president of Bank of America’s Global Corporate Security, who reportedly demanded action from local prosecutors. Olson stopped when contacted by the San Diego Gang Unit in 2012. Freeman however demanded prosecution and claimed a dubious level of $6,000 in damages for the chalk protest. Deputy City Attorney Paige Hazard is shown in emails being high solicitous to Freeman’s demands and even writing him with the good news of the stack of charges.
Superior Court Judge Howard M. Shore then granted Hazard’s motion to prohibit Olson’s attorney Tom Tosdal from mentioning the First Amendment, free speech, free expression, public forum, expressive conduct, or political speech during the trial.
Well, the case apparently spoke for itself. A jury acquitted Olson in a case that even Mayor Bob Filner called “stupid” and a “waste of money,.”
However, despite the national criticism of the case and the excessive number of charges, City Atty. Jan Goldsmith (left) insisted that he was protecting his community from graffiti vandalism. He does not discuss the absurd number of charges or the questionable claim of damages. There is no evidence of prosecutorial discretion or even logic in the effort to put away Olson for this simple protest.
As for Freeman and Bank of America, it is astonishing that they would want this publicity. Not a single bank official went to jail for the Bank of America’s financial dealings. They insisted that such punishment was unfair and unnecessary as their security contractor sought to pile on charges for a chalk protester objecting to those practices. BofA ended up getting a bailout for alleged foreclosure fraud and then reportedly paid no taxes on $17.2 billion in offshore earnings. However, the bank demanded that Olson be held accountable for his chalk protest on their sidewalk and a claim of $6000 in damage for chalk that was water-soluble. The only problem was not the police or the prosecutor or the judge but a jury of his peers.
Source: LA Times