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In mid-February of 2012 Jeff Olson walked through the aisles at the CVS Pharmacy on University Avenue in North Park. He was there to pick up gifts for his nephews. The 40-year-old former staffer for a U.S. senator from Washington was off for the day, not from work, but from protesting against Bank of America.

While combing through the toy aisle, Olson spotted a blue box of Creatology sidewalk chalk. The back of the box read: “Decorate sidewalks, play hopscotch and other fun games; washes easily from skin and clothes; super easy for little hands to grip.”

A light bulb went on inside his mind. It was perfect, he thought, not as a gift for his nephews but as a way to protest against the big bank next door.

More than one year later, that decision led Olson here, sitting in a black desk chair at the defendants’ table facing superior court judge Jay M. Bloom, who is tasked with deciding whether the case should be dismissed.

Tall and lanky, Olson is perched on the edge of his seat. He stares at the judge as his lawyer, Tom Tosdal, addresses the court and nods his head at a rapid rate, more dedicated student than defendant in a criminal case. His erect posture and nodding head shows he’s either giddy with excitement for fighting the system or terrified by the system he is trying to fight. It is most likely a combination of the two.

He faces 13 counts of vandalism for writing anti-bank slogans with water-soluble chalk on a public sidewalk outside of three Bank of America branches, two in North Park, another in Hillcrest. The act could put him in jail for 13 years and be on the hook for more than $6000 in restitution if San Diego’s City Attorney’s Office gets its way.

According to the city attorney’s reasoning, the case is much bigger than some scribbles on a sidewalk.

“The People do not fear that this reading of section 594(A) will make criminals of every child using chalk,” reads a document filed in court by deputy city attorney Paige Hazard.

“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.”

During the two-hour preliminary hearing on June 17, Olson’s lawyer argues against the merits of the case. “This is a case about a person’s constitutional rights, the right to free speech and to peaceful political protest,” Tosdal tells the judge.

Jeff Olson, announcing the gag order enacted that morning that prevents his having any interviews with media.

Jeff Olson, announcing the gag order enacted that morning that prevents his having any interviews with media.

Deputy city attorney Hazard fires back, “The people do feel chalk is defacement. Mr. Olson did not seek authorization from the Bank of America or the City of San Diego to write messages on the sidewalk. The goal of this case is to address blight. We prosecute cases to protect the quality of life for residents.”

Hazard, a woman in her late 30s, sounds as if she is trying to convince herself of the merits of the case as much as she is the judge. As she speaks, junior attorney William Tanoury scribbles on a yellow legal pad. Another law student working with the City Attorney’s Office sits and watches from the gallery.

As the two lawyers exchange arguments, Olson looks at the judge in an apparent attempt to make eye contact, hoping for some opportunity to show the judge that he is not some reckless vandal or irresponsible Occupier.

Olson was a latecomer to the world of vandalism — or political activism, for that matter. The Portland, Oregon, native was always political but never went further than a heated discussion. It took the bailout and the Occupy Wall Street movement for the agitation to turn to action.

He opposed the billions of dollars given to the big banks as part of the Troubled Asset Relief Program, more commonly called TARP. The banks, according to him, preyed on middle and lower classes. They handed out ill-advised loans, and when the bottom dropped out on the real estate market, responded by asking for billions in handouts from the taxpayers.

Olson focused his attention on one of the largest banking institutions, Bank of America. A branch is located two blocks from his North Park home.

At the time, fall of 2011, Occupy Wall Street was all the rage. Mobs of disenchanted citizens pitched tents in public squares across the country. They sang protest songs and banged on bongos to rally against social and economic inequality.

Here in San Diego, Occupiers commandeered the plaza at City Hall. In three months’ time, from October 2011 to December 2011, more than 60 protesters were carted off to jail for participating in non-violent sleep-ins.

Olson never protested at a council meeting, pitched a tent, or chanted slogans against the One Percent. Instead, he decided to go where he felt he’d make the most impact — the front doors of the bank.

It’s early June, 17 days until Olson is set to appear before Judge Bloom in a San Diego courtroom. He occupies a small black-leather loveseat inside Santos Coffee Shop in North Park. Olson is tall and thin. He is clean-shaven, his hair neatly combed. He wears a T-shirt that reads, “I am displeased with the entire situation,” in German. His look does not scream “activist!” It doesn’t scream anything at all. He looks like your run-of-the-mill North Park resident in shorts, T-shirt, and sneakers. Olson is unemployed but has been known to take the odd job every now and then, like getting paid to drive a car out to Chicago, for example. So, during the height of the Occupy movement, it’s safe to say he had plenty of time on his hands for politics.

“I didn’t think that going downtown to sleep in a park was a good use of my time,” he says.

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Comments

David Dodd July 3, 2013 @ 1:17 p.m.

I'm very proud of the Reader for this piece, the entire coverage of Jeff Olson's ordeal, and for exposing the audacity of the City Attorney for prosecuting Olsen with taxpayer dollars (the City Attorney should not only be dismissed but also be order to pay all court expenses out-of-pocket). This made National news, and thanks to Mr. Hargrove, it is a perfect example of how alternative weekly publications are notoriously necessary, since mainstream media fails to provide proper coverage on how all branches of government are so easily manhandled by huge corporations. Olson has proven his point here, even more so than having done nothing more than drawing what amounts to harmless hopscotch chalk patterns on city sidewalks, in that large corporate entities seem to be powerful enough to direct the government to cast off a shoe and use it to smash us often-helpless slugs into submission. Good job Mr. Hargrove, and good job Mr. Olson, I thank you both.

8

HonestGovernment July 3, 2013 @ 3:03 p.m.

Great to read about all the background on Jeff Olson and the lead-up to the charges and trial. Good story, and congratulations to Dorian Hargrove for shining a light on the events. Also, congratulations to Jeff Olson and Tom Tosdal for standing up for principle and for winning.

Hoping this is Part 1. Want to know more about the courtroom atmosphere and the jurors. More!

I continue to be shocked at the thought of Jeff Olson losing his 4th Amendment rights in order to avoid trial. Are the San Diego cops so overstaffed and unbusy that they could find time to randomly search Olson's home and person, ... for chalk or political literature? What?

The extreme plea deals offered and the arrogance of the judge, who criticized the press and media for reporting the maximum charges Jeff Olson faced (as if reporters are obligated to assure the public that the worst would never happen?), are frightening. I hope this abuse of the City Attorney's office brings about some internal changes in the official protocol for deciding on charges brought, and some deep introspection among the Deputy City Attorneys as to the political nature of the office and their boss. They might do a little protesting of their own in the future. I'm also curious if any of the five DCAs in the courtroom on the final day were from the Civil Rights division, if there is one.

4

BlueSouthPark July 3, 2013 @ 5:21 p.m.

I wondered what Olson's T-shirt said. Knowing that it says I am displeased with the entire situation makes me even madder that the "deals" that the city offered included anger management. Olson presented himself with gentle mildness when confronted by the BofA security jerk and by the police officers who were sicced on Olson. Even the chalked protests were polite, as I'm sure the jury noticed.

The cheapest, laziest way to insult someone whose point of view is at variance with your own is to declare them "angry" or in need of behavior modification. It's the sort of cheap shot that Goldsmith and the cabal take toward Mayor Filner, day in and day out. Those people place great value on sticking the knife in with a quiet and sickly smile, smug comments, and supercilious remonstrations. It prevails in the City Attorney's office. The "deal" for Olson of taking anger management classes was twisted and insulting. In honor of Kafka's birthday, I'll paraphrase: In the fight between Goldy's cabal and the world, I'll back the world. Round One goes to Olson-Tosdal.

(Goldsmith and the cabal, so pissed that DeMaio didn't win, must have never seen him fly into a rage in council meetings, demeaning anyone who didn't agree with him. We really are blessed that he is confined to sending out pleas for money, and isn't sitting in City Hall giving away favors and money to the cabal. I'll take Filner's honest outrage, any day, and wish we had a City Attorney that was his equal.)

3

Fred Williams July 3, 2013 @ 9:08 p.m.

Jeff Olson's acquittal on all counts is not the end of this saga.

Next, let's watch Goldsmith squirm, as Freeman loses his job, and the City and SDPD are sued for damages.

But I bet Olson being a true gentleman, would agree to drop the matter if Goldsmith, Officer Miles, and Freeman would simply apologize with sincerity and refrain from such misconduct in the future.

Perhaps the Mayor's office could arrange a press conference where he apologizes, on behalf of the City, and invites Goldsmith and the others to do so as well.

That would be sweet...and justified, and the only scenario where the city doesn't lose even more money because of ferret-top and the SDPD maliciously collaborating with big businesses to violate the constitutional rights of citizens.

3

BlueSouthPark July 3, 2013 @ 10:11 p.m.

That's a nice idea, Fred. I like it. Also, Filner could announce he isn't going to attend any more closed sessions until Goldsmith apologizes to everyone and Andrew Jones apologizes to Rosa Parks' family.

2

nostalgic July 4, 2013 @ 2:06 p.m.

What will happen next? This was a criminal, not a civil suit. I am not sure the city has to pay the winning lawyer. Then, it would take a civil suit for "false arrest"? Please, some of you lawyers, help us out here.

0

SurfPuppy619 July 4, 2013 @ 3:42 p.m.

Yes, a federal lawsuit is next, usually in federal court, against the City ......and SDPD.

0

SurfPuppy619 July 4, 2013 @ 3:45 p.m.

"Deputy city attorney Hazard fires back, “The people do feel chalk is defacement. Mr. Olson did not seek authorization from the Bank of America or the City of San Diego to write messages on the sidewalk." Oh brother......"authorization" on a public sidewalk...Hazard should put on a Batman outfit and try to act in movies instead of a courtroom.

"The goal of this case is to address blight. We prosecute cases to protect the quality of life for residents.” The goal of this case was to jump at the command of your corporate master. I wonder if Squirrel Toupee can "Roll Over" and "Sit" just as good.......

2

HonestGovernment July 4, 2013 @ 4:06 p.m.

When anyone from the San Diego City Attorney's office starts talking about the quality of life of residents, I want to run far, far away.

2

SurfPuppy619 July 4, 2013 @ 6:22 p.m.

Tell Ferret Head to ask B of A[ss] how the "quality of life" is going for the home owners they DEFRAUDED with their robo-signing foreclosures.......

3

Writeon July 5, 2013 @ 6:21 p.m.

Ferret Head! I will never see this guy the same way again!

0

bartleby88 July 5, 2013 @ 12:41 p.m.

Unfortunately, nowadays when a government official says he is "concerned with the public welfare" means there is a red flag going up and you better be very careful in what will happen next.

1

HonestGovernment July 4, 2013 @ 4:53 p.m.

This charge filed by Goldsmith's attorneys led me to do a little reading about who Goldsmith is. I started with this profile. It says nothing about what he was doing prior to 1988, pretty odd for someone who was admitted to the Cal Bar in 1976. The San Diego Daily Transcript had the only Internet mention of his work and partnership at two law firms, Seltzer Caplan and Dorazio, Barnhorst, Goldsmith & Bonar. I couldn't imagine why these affiliations aren't present in any of his public resumes.

Perhaps this is why: His biggest claim to fame at Dorazio, Barnhorst, Goldsmith & Bonar was, from 1981 to 1985, defending against deportation a former officer of the Latvian Political Police. The Board of Immigration ruling for deportation produced witnesses describing Goldsmith's client, as an "armed, paid, full-time, relatively high-ranking officer" who, from 1941 to 1943, at a Riga, Latvia Nazi-controlled prison "assisted and otherwise participated in the persecution of persons because of political opinion." It's just so ironic.

Goldsmith took the case to the US Court of Appeals, Ninth Circuit, and won, based on the narrow ruling that no living witnesses were produced who could actually state that they were beaten or tortured (or killed?). Goldsmith's client, Laipenieks, was not deported and remained in the US, dying in 1998 in La Jolla at the age of 84.

2

rdotinga July 4, 2013 @ 5:38 p.m.

That's very interesting background. But it's hard to know if the case against the Latvian guy was bogus or not.

Btw, the profiles on the site you mention don't seem to include non-political jobs. Bob Filner's bio, for example, only starts in 1975. http://www.joincalifornia.com/candidate/5980

1

dlwatib July 5, 2013 @ 11:56 a.m.

Thank God the jury had a modicum of common sense and refused to convict on such ridiculous, trumped-up charges. But we are still left with the evidence that our police force, our District Attorney, and the judge in the case were too corrupt to see the stupidity of prosecuting this case in the first place. Plus, where were the voices of reason in our state legislature when it was decided to include chalk markings as vandalism?

I can't believe that the generation that lived through the protests of the Vietnam War era would grow up into such doltish totalitarian dictators. At least this protestor didn't get gunned down like the protestors at Kent State.

4

Writeon July 5, 2013 @ 6:52 p.m.

Long before mortgage meltdowns and people losing their homes, Bank of America didn't have a great reputation with account holders that I know. Now that we know badmouthing "B of A" via "chalking" ruffles their panties so badly, the biggest fear for "B of A" might be making themselves a target for continued forms of expression. So "chalking" hits a nerve with big, bad, "B of A"? It must hurt when control has it's limits. How about "chalking" half a block away? What are you going do then "B of A"? Thanks for the efforts in bringing this story to us readers. I think of Mr Olson's protest and expression of free speech while also reflecting on the protests going on in Egypt right now. Crying about chalk on the sidewalk? The well-heeled multinational has it so tough. Some people don't like you "B of A". Deal with it. How much is chalk going for these days anyways?

1

ejs July 7, 2013 @ 4 p.m.

If the Bank of America did force this prosecution and the City Attorney filed and pursued it in order to further his political ambitions (quite a miscalculation, if true), then I think the Bank should be sued in civil court for malicious prosecution and abuse of process.

1

SurfPuppy619 July 7, 2013 @ 6:07 p.m.

If the Bank of America did force this prosecution and the City Attorney filed and pursued it in order to further his political ambitions (quite a miscalculation, if true), then I think the Bank should be sued in civil court for malicious prosecution and abuse of process.

Well believe it or not, this is not against the law for the city attorney to do, and they can even act in a malicious manner and still get what is known as prosecutorial immunity. B of A and SDPD may be sued, but not the CA (again the City can but only b/c they employ SDPD)..

1

tonybob49 July 9, 2013 @ 12:47 p.m.

Does no one think this whole thing was due to BofA's "Corporatre Security VP", Darrell Freeman being a homophobe? He's a member of some armed evangelical group out of Orange County, the Royal Rangers. Olson is gay and no doubt Freeman picked up on this (he's working in a BofA in Hillcrest?!?!?!?).
The gay community should start closing accounts with the bank. Then they won't need a Hillcrest branch. And the Gay and Lesbian community leaders should look into this. This could be bigger than Paula Deen.

1

Jeff_O July 10, 2013 @ 10:26 p.m.

Chalk the BofA / Turn your back on bankster thugs: SD Pride edition!

https://www.facebook.com/events/649817271735091/?ref=14

An injury to one is an injury to all! Tell the Wall Street bankster thugs from BofA that it takes more than one day of platitudes to atone for their crimes against Jeff Olson, our community and our nation.

sdgln.com/news/2013/07/01/chalk-protester-against-big-banks-found-not-guilty-all-counts

Turn your backs when their sycophantic sympathizers march in our parade and join the fun chalking our city sidewalks in front of their Hillcrest crime scene at 737 University Ave. Bring washable chalk and your creative spirit.

www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/06/25/jeff-olson-california-banks_n_3499177.html

As we march into the mainstream, let's not forget our radical roots!

0

villageram July 9, 2013 @ 2:31 p.m.

I meant to leave my account with Bank of Amerika back in the day when Olsen was protesting and there was all the protesting but I didnt. Last week I did. F-U Banks of Amerika!!

1

dwoodwhe July 12, 2013 @ 1:41 p.m.

This is ridiculous. Olson made no attempts to conceal his identity, and the Gang Task Force waits until 13 complaints pile up before acting? I believe the punishment should fit the crime. Make the Gang Task Force pay for 12/13ths of the clean up from their budget, since the whole mess could have been cleaned up after the first incident.

Make BoA pay for the remaining incident, since a protest would not have been needed had their policies towards their customers not been nasty.

In addition, fire those in charge of the ineffective Gang Unit, who couldn’t catch someone who wasn’t hiding. Hire Olson to fill the resulting job opening. He has proven his abilities to draw chalk outlines, a useful police technique.

0

BillRayDrums Aug. 15, 2013 @ 12:17 p.m.

Hazard sounds like she needs to go back to civics class and stop being such a bad American. What a disgrace.

0

LoveBeautyNGlam Aug. 18, 2013 @ 8:47 p.m.

I would find this ridiculous except just about 2 weeks ago my Best Friend's apartment complex took her children's chalk off of her front porch, hosed off the basic scribbles by a 2 & 7 year old on the walkway leading up to her door before it had a chance to rain and then sent her a warning for graffiti. HA! is all I have to say. I can't wait to sent her this article.

0

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