Walter Mencken 12:02 p.m., May 30
City Attorney Jan Goldsmith has a history of prosecuting activists who scribble chalk on public sidewalks
18-year-old Occupy San Diego participant spent three days in jail in 2012 for writing free speech slogans in chalk. Lawyer for the woman says City Attorney was "personally involved" in the case.
Earlier this week, San Diego's City Attorney Jan Goldsmith issued a statement on the misinformation spread by the media in regards to the prosecution of a man for scribbling anti-bank statements in chalk on the sidewalk.
"The defense is trying to make this case into a political statement, which it is not. This is just one of some 20,000 criminal cases that are referred to us annually by the police department. We have prosecutors who decide whether to issue cases. They are professionals. The City Attorney was not involved in deciding whether to issue this case as is typical practice in prosecution offices for most cases. He hadn't heard of this case until it was in the media."
It was that last statement, the statement that the City Attorney isn't aware of some cases, including those involving the Occupy Wall Street movement, that deserves to be looked at more closely.
As to whether City Attorney Goldsmith was aware of the case, the Reader sent the City Attorney's Office questions about Olson's case back on May 31, 2013. Four days later, a spokesperson for the City Attorney's Office responded with a legal justification for prosecuting Jeff Olson.
The City Attorney and his office were also asked if there had been any other similar cases in recent years.
"There was a case, but it was dismissed by our office for lack of sufficient evidence," read the June 4 email.
The lawyer in that case, Jeremy Warren, says he remembers it much differently. Early last year, Warren defended a 19-year-old woman involved in the Occupy San Diego movement who was charged with vandalism for writing "Occupy San Diego" in chalk on a wall in the Civic Center plaza. The woman, who at the time went by the name Zenyatta, was arrested and transported to the Las Colinas Detention Facility. That's where she stayed for three days.
"I got arrested for, like, writing on the ground during Occupy," said Zenyatta in a February 2012 video posted on Tumblr. The officer arrested me and he told me about how much of a delinquent I was and then put me in jail. I didn't have enough money to pay for my bail. I basically served three days of prison time for drawing on the ground with chalk."
Warren, who defended the woman, remembers trying to strike a deal with the City.
"The City Attorney charged her with misdemeanor vandalism under the city’s municipal code," says Warren. "In trying to get them to dismiss the case, I was told in no uncertain terms that negotiations would be challenging because City Attorney Goldsmith was personally involved in the Occupy cases."
Things changed as the court date neared.
"As we got closer to trial, they offered to dismiss her case if she would do a few hours of community service," Warren says.
The Occupier, however, rejected the offer.
"It seemed like a good way for them to save face and for her to avoid the stress of trial, but she was adamant she could not accept any deal for exercising free speech," says Warren. "The night before trial, the City Attorney’s office finally relented and agreed to dismiss the charges outright."
See Doug Porter's article in the San Diego Free Press for more information on the case.
For more on Jeff Olson's case read these stories:
More like this:
- City attorney loses two more First Amendment battles — Dec. 9, 2013
- Is it the mess or the message? City Attorney has been selective when prosecuting chalk vandalism — June 30, 2013
- Judge issues gag order in case of man prosecuted for scribbling anti-bank messages in chalk — June 27, 2013
- Little Italy Festa announces theme for 2013 chalk festival: "City Attorney Goldsmith is a ______." — June 27, 2013
- He chalks the line: City Attorney prosecutes man for writing anti-bank slogans in water soluble chalk — June 23, 2013