Walter Mencken 11:22 a.m., April 26
Acquitted on all 13 counts of vandalism, jury says Jeff Olson should be free
A review of the plea-deal offers deputy city attorney Hazard said were fair
With each of the 13 "not guilty" verdicts, defense attorney Tom Tosdal grabbed Jeff Olson's shoulder in a sign of support and relief. On Monday, jurors rejected all 13-counts of vandalism charges filed against Olson for scribbling anti-Bank of America messages in water soluble chalk.
It was a good day for Olson and Tosdal and for free-speech supporters across the country.
Not so much so for San Diego's City Attorney Jan Goldsmith, his office, and for Superior Court Judge Howard Shore.
After the verdicts were read, Judge Shore explained the reasoning behind his decision to bar Tosdal from using first amendment rights as a defense as well as for placing a gag order on the defendant prohibiting him from speaking to the media.
"The media set the tone in this case by talking about a potential 13-year sentence. It had a tendency to infuriate the public instead of informing it. Anyone in the system, the lawyers and anyone involved, knew that maximum sentence would never be handed out but still it was reported."
Outside the courtroom Paige Hazard, the lead prosecutor on the case, also dismissed media reports and blamed Olson for turning down what she said were fair plea offers.
Hazard's comments were later backed-up by an official statement from the City Attorney's Office which criticized Olson for forcing the City's hand and taking the case to trial.
"As with most graffiti cases, Mr. Olson was offered reduction to an infraction after completing volunteer work service cleaning up graffiti," read the statement. "His refusal resulted in the trial and his successful defense."
Looking at those offers, however, fair is one of the last words that comes to mind.
On May 16, Hazard told Olson the City would drop the case if he agreed to serve 32-hours of community service, attend an 8-hour seminar by the "Corrective Behavior Institute," pay Bank of America $6,299 in restitution for the clean-up, waive all Fourth Amendment rights guarding against search and seizures, and surrender his driver's license for three year period."
So on June 18, as the June 25 trial date neared, Hazard offered Olson another deal.
Olson would plead guilty to one count of vandalism, agree to serve three-years probation, pay restitution --amount undetermined, spend 24-hours cleaning up graffiti, and surrender his driver's license for 2-years.
"I didn't see how that was fair," said Olson a few hours after the trial. "Why should I have to give up my license for two-years and serve 3-years probation just for exercising my first amendment rights? It's sad to see the City Attorney's Office now laying the blame on me for wasting taxpayer resources. It was their decision to take this to court, not mine."
Olson, able to speak freely without fear of violating Judge Shore's gag order, said the whole thing was never supposed to go this far.
"All I wanted to do was ask that people invest in San Diego, not some big Wall Street bank based in Charlotte, North Carolina. For me, it's the same when it comes to simple things like beer or produce. I choose to keep my money locally. I say that proudly, a Stone Craft beer in hand. I choose to buy my produce at the local farmer's market, not some major supermarket. These are fairly simple choices that can help build a sustainable economy here, in San Diego."
In the coming days, Olson is planning a trip back to his hometown of Portland.
It won't be the last time you hear from him. Olson will appear on Mornings with Chip and LaDona at 7:05am tomorrow, and will call into KPBS Midday Edition with his lawyer Tosdal at noon. Lastly, and most importantly...of course...Olson will be featured in a July 3 cover story in the Reader.
More like this:
- Jeff Olson, the Mad Chalker — July 3, 2013
- Judge issues gag order in case of man prosecuted for scribbling anti-bank messages in chalk — June 27, 2013
- Jurors selected, trial begins in case of anti-bank protester — June 26, 2013
- Chalking the plank: Judge won't allow bank protester to claim first amendment rights — June 25, 2013
- He chalks the line: City Attorney prosecutes man for writing anti-bank slogans in water soluble chalk — June 23, 2013