After the incident at the Hillcrest branch, Olson became more involved in the election. He traveled to see family in Portland. His protests against Bank of America gradually came to an end.
Unlike the chalk, city attorney Jan Goldsmith’s memory did not fade, and neither did Freeman’s.
On August 28, 2012, Bill Miles from San Diego’s Gang Unit knocked on Olson’s door to his apartment on Landis Street in North Park.
“I thought it was a joke at first. It was the last thing I thought would happen,” Olson says about the visit from the head of the Gang Unit. “The more I thought, the more I realized that these banks and their executives can throw tons of money at local politicians. That’s bound to have some impact.”
Olson’s partner, Stephen Daniels, was also home when Miles came for a chat.
“When they have to focus their energies on this type of trite, insignificant case, doesn’t that take away from the interest of the people?” Daniels asks. “I’d prefer if they focused on the real criminals. Don’t the cops from the gang task force have better things to do?”
On January 7, 2013, Freeman sent an email to officer Bill Miles from the San Diego Police Department’s Gang Unit and Nicole Kukas from the San Diego City Attorney’s Office.
“Any updates on this court filing?” Wrote Freeman in the email.
Freeman didn’t have to wait very long for a response from the City Attorney’s Office. Two minutes later, Kukas replied, “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.”
Ten days later, on January 17, Freeman sent another email asking the same question.
Bill Miles from the San Diego Police Department’s Gang Unit responded, “I appreciate your patience. I will forward this to the City Attorney.”
On April 15, Paige Hazard from the City Attorney’s Office gave Freeman 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.”
Considering the time and the hours spent on the case, the city attorney must see some significance to the case. Not surprisingly, Mayor Filner is not on the same page with the city’s top lawyer.
On June 12, five days before the hearing to dismiss the case, Filner was asked about the case. The mayor hadn’t heard anything about it at the time. He did, however, have some concerns and didn’t rule out taking action to stop it.
“I’ve been known to defend the First Amendment,” Filner said during a June 12 interview. “I’ve been known to get arrested for the First Amendment from time to time in the past.”
Defend, Filner did, at least in part. Eight days later, on June 20, Filner issued a memo to council president Todd Gloria and City Attorney Goldsmith. It read in part:
“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. It is alleged that he has no previous criminal record. If these assertions are correct, I believe this is a misuse and waste of taxpayer money. It could also be characterized as an abuse of power that infringes on First Amendment particularly when it is arbitrarily applied to some, but not all, similar speech.”
Yet, despite opposition from the mayor or public support, the city attorney has moved forward.
“Vandalism is against the law in the state of California,” writes a city attorney spokesperson. “Graffiti is a form of vandalism. Various substances could be used, including chalk, to commit vandalism because defacement does not incorporate an element of permanence. Therefore a marring of the surface is no less a defacement because it is more easily removed. Case law stating that damage does not need to be permanent: In re Nicholas Y (2000) 85 CA 4th 941, 944.”
Does that mean any kid with a piece of chalk wanting to play a game of hopscotch is a vandal?
“As to the question of young children drawing on the sidewalk, it is unlikely that they would possess the requisite criminal intent of acting with malice.
“Though an act might seem harmless on its face, investigation and eradication costs can be substantial. All aspects of a case (e.g. the evidence, the type of charge, damage to a victim) will be considered and also balanced against our need to use resources effectively and efficiently.”
According to the City Attorney’s Office, in the past two years there was only one other case of a mad chalker temporarily tagging property. That case, however, was dismissed for lack of evidence.
Olson assumes there is some political motivation by the city attorney to forge ahead.
“I can’t believe they are actually going through with this,” says Olson outside the courtroom before the June 17 hearing. “It’s no mystery that Goldsmith has ties to big business. How do you think he was able to raise tens of thousands of dollars for his campaign for city attorney? He didn’t even have an opponent.”
The conspiracy theories stop and the anxiety takes charge. “It’s crazy; I’ve never been inside a courtroom before. I’m anxious but also still wanting to fight this. I just can’t believe this is happening,” he says with nervous laughter.
“This is a perfect form of civil disobedience, that is non-violent, non-destructive, and a way for people to exercise their right to free speech.”
Weeks before the trial was set to begin, Goldsmith offered Olson a plea deal. Goldsmith would drop the case if Olson agreed to give $6000 to Bank of America, give up his license, waive his Fourth Amendment right, and serve three years’ probation.
Using the city attorney’s math, each chalking incident, 19 in all, cost the bank anywhere from $225 to $400 to clean. That and all of the employee time spent on the matter.
Olson refused the deal.