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Is it the mess or is it the message?

Is it the fact that Olson's message was a key tenet of the Occupy Wall Street movement or would it happen to any person or group wishing to exercise their free speech with a piece of washable chalk?

Those are questions that will likely remain unanswered long after the case of Jeff Olson, a San Diego man who is facing a maximum sentence of 13-years in jail for scribbling anti-Bank of America slogans outside of three bank branches over a five-month span, is decided.

As we reported on Friday, attorney Jeremy Warren was well aware of City Attorney's Jan Goldsmith's desire to prosecute Occupy San Diego participants.

"...I was told in no uncertain terms that negotiations would be challenging because City Attorney Goldsmith was personally involved in the Occupy cases."

Goldsmith's decision to prosecute Olson and the young Occupier who Warren represented, seems to go against what other groups with different message were told.

One such group, pro-life activists Live Action San Diego, organized a "Talk and Chalk" July 2011 protest outside of a local Planned Parenthood.

The group's Facebook event page listed to day's events. "We'll break begin by dropping off Advocates (Live Action's newsletter) on doorsteps in the neighborhood surrounding the [Planned Parenthood] clinic, then head back over to the clinic and chalk up the surrounding sidewalks with pro life messages and take some time to pray for the unborn.

"This is a great chance to get outside, use your artistic skills, and most importantly, ACT for the pro life cause! Invite your friends and we hope to see you there!"

But before the event occurred, organizers began to have concerns about the legality of the chalk-a-thon. In a later comment, Live Action San Diego said their questions were answered.

"Hey everyone! Just wanted to let you know that we have contacted the San Diego Police Department and they confirmed it is NOT considered vandalism to chalk up a sidewalk. There have been some questions regarding this and we wanted to settle them. Hope to see you Thursday!"

The group didn't stop there. One month later the chalk crew were back at it.

"AMAZING flash mob chalking event today! Our team of 16 covered 3 clinics in less than 2 hours! Thank you everyone for coming to stand up for life," read Facebook post from August 2011. The post was accompanied by pictures of the day's events.

Nearly two years later, after the chalk has vanished outside the Planned Parenthood clinics, Olson awaits for twelve jurors to decide his fate. According to a statement from the City Attorney's Office, Olson is the only person to be prosecuted for vandalism with chalk.

Yesterday, on June 30, Olson appeared alongside nearly 100 supporters outside of the San Diego Superior Courthouse at Chalk-U-Py San Diego.

Eight police officers were assigned to oversee the event. Participants were given a six foot by 70-foot area around the building to write their thoughts on the case and exercise their first amendment rights.

"We've agreed to allow them to chalk and express themselves in the front of the courthouse," said Police Captain Mark Jones during the rally.

On Friday, Mayor Bob Filner again expressed his disappointment with the case and the decision by the City Attorney to prosecute Olson.

"It looks like we were prosecuting someone at the insistence of Bank of America for writing political issues. I mean, it's chalk. It's washable chalk. It's political slogans. We are not even responding to public complaints. They were complaints from Bank of America. I think it's a stupid case and is costing us money. If these are the types of cases the City Attorney is prosecuting then I am not sure he needs as much money in his budget as he says he does."

When asked if Filner is considering making a plea to jurors to acquit Olson in spite of his guilt, also known as jury nullification, the Mayor responded, "Nobody has asked me. Usually I respond when the attorney or the public ask me to get involved and no one has asked me."

Regardless of what happens, the public outcry has been heard and will likely not go away any time soon. On the Daily Kos website, as of 11am on Sunday, more than 28,000 people have signed a petition urging Goldsmith the dismiss the case.

"Dear San Diego City Attorney Jan Goldsmith:

Prosecuting people who chalk political messages on vandalism charges is a blatant abuse of power, and sets a dangerous precedent for the First Amendment. Please drop all charges against Jeff Olson immediately."

The jury is expected to reach a verdict in the case in the coming days.

And thanks goes out to journalist Dave Maass for providing information and links used in this story. Thanks!

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eastlaker June 30, 2013 @ 12:10 p.m.

Our civic leaders might have been more at home playing Keystone Cops in the silent movies a hundred years ago. At least they would have done less damage, cost less and wouldn't be carrying around inflated egos, as one and all would know them for what they are!


HonestGovernment June 30, 2013 @ 1:42 p.m.

Really good work, Dorian. Just excellent investigative discovery about the police telling the LiveAction group that chalking is NOT vandalism. If and when Olson takes this to appellate court, the City is going to lose. I can even imagine the City losing an additional damages suit. Too bad for the taxpayers, who have to foot the bill for Goldsmith's political hackery.


SurfPuppy619 June 30, 2013 @ 3:04 p.m.

"I think it's a stupid case and is costing us money. If these are the types of cases the City Attorney is prosecuting then I am not sure he needs as much money in his budget as he says he does." Budget cut!


Founder June 30, 2013 @ 7:17 p.m.

I bet the IBA, is already looking at this, since it is going to have a large impact on the City's finances... http://www.sandiego.gov/iba/


beluosus June 30, 2013 @ 3:21 p.m.

Its the message. I was just driving on university ave. in hillcrest and noticed the SDG&E chalk-marks on the sidewalk. I don't suppose the city attorney will have SDG&E arrested anytime soon.


aardvark June 30, 2013 @ 5:23 p.m.

Oh I'm sure SDG&E have all the necessary permits required to write on the sidewalk.


BlueSouthPark June 30, 2013 @ 7:19 p.m.

Over at the UT, MTH has finally done the honorable thing and has given credit to Dorian Hargrove and The Reader for first reporting the chalk prosecution story. Thank you MTH, for compensating for the less honorable UT employee who failed to credit Mr. Hargrove for original investigative journalism.


Founder June 30, 2013 @ 7:54 p.m.

Well Said!

It is very sad that the UT now requires a FaceBook account to post any comments; to me that is yet another nail to Free $peech in $an Diego.

Maybe Dorian will consider doing a story on what percentage of San Diegans do not have FaceBook accounts, I bet it is at least 75% of voters if not much more ; which because of the UT's Owners edict, is yet another way to limit free speech and discussion about all topics of public interest!


Menno July 1, 2013 @ 12:52 a.m.

I was planning a trip to San Diego using a Bank of America credit card to buy the airline ticket but, not after reading this! I'll spend my money somewhere else instead and cancel my credit card with Bank of America. What a Nazi state we've becoming!


Menno July 1, 2013 @ 1:18 a.m.

I've just closed out a credit card account with Bank of America that I've held since 1986. I hope this helps. I would encourage anyone with an account in these banks to do the same.


Founder July 1, 2013 @ 1:13 p.m.

Great, now if tens of thousands would do the same thing, I bet all the Big Banks would start to value all their customers again instead of JUST their own profits!


sarahguzman July 1, 2013 @ 9:17 a.m.

Never mind the kids using chalk on sidewalks. What about the wealthy adults blatantly putting dangerous traffic signs on public streets? http://obrag.org/?p=74694 Does that matter to Goldsmith? Well, his friend Faulconner is involved, so I guess he will just look the other way! Injustice anywhere is a threat of injustice everywhere!


nostalgic July 1, 2013 @ 1:39 p.m.

Many of us have wanted and worked so that Mayor Filner can make San Diego the city he envisioned. The push-back to that is that every liberal or environmentalist becomes a public enemy to the defenders of the status quo. Now this case is in the hands of the jury, but the information presented to them is limited. Let us hope that somehow the essence of truth is clear to them, representing the validity of the American way of life, with voters, jury trials, and freedoms.


FatCatSegat July 1, 2013 @ 4:34 p.m.

If convicted, it should be reversed on appeal knowing what we know now thanks to good research. Good job on that! This might be a little mean but, here I go! How can anyone trust a man who is obviously delusional or simply in denial? Jan Goldsmith looks like a store mannequin with that hairpiece on his noggin. I mean really. I could be more reasonable if he got a good hairpiece that doesn't scream, "HAIRPIECE!" maybe, but man Trump's combover is alot better and he's the world's biggest jagoff. Here's a piece of news for you balding guys,(I'm included too) do it gracefully. Grow it longer if you must fullfill the need to overcompensate, but really when its gone, it's gone baby. Everything else is just sad and pathetic. Thats right Goldsmith. I ain't no one special, I know, but you'd get my respect if you took the racoon off your head. Then with the sudden rush of oxygen in your pores, you might start working together with your Mayor to take on worthwhile issues. Or do you wear longer wigs at home? Hmmmmm.


pearljammed July 1, 2013 @ 7:32 p.m.

Kudos all around to the great job Dorian Hargrove! He broke the Chalk Trial story with great journalistic enterprise and brought to life an injustice that may have remained buried otherwise.

Never have I been prouder to have once been associated with The Reader than when Dorian Hargrove dug this one up and brought attention to the injustices involved. This is the very best kind of journalism: writing and reporting, but also playing a role in a story that might have turned our badly, but for the facts discovered that gets the truth out.. Thank you to Dorian and also much thanks to the jurors, who saw through all the B.S. and made a wise decision.


WendySueB July 1, 2013 @ 8:26 p.m.

Jeff Olson was found NOT GUILTY!!! This is yet another unjust arrest of a member of the Occupy Movement. A young OSD (Occupy San Diego) Woman 18 yrs. at the time was arrested downtown at Civic Center Plaza, she spent 3 days in jail for chalk drawing. She was released on her 19th birthday to await trial, an amazing graffiti, street artist and political cartoonist. She went to court 5 different times, arriving at court just to be told the prosecution postponed her trial. The 5th time going to court, they finally dropped the unlawful charges against her - 8 months after being arrested.

A week before She was arrested, 2 other Occupy S.D. sidewalk chalk artists at Civic Center/Freedom Plaza were warned and only given a citation. So, 4 different people, members of the Occupy Movement charged in very different ways for the same act: Side Walk Chalk Drawing an act of Free Speech and Freedom of Creative Expression. Anyone else see selective police harassment and a class-action lawsuit?

When was the last time in San Diego, a child, parent, teacher, school administrator was arrested for Side Walk Chalk drawing. The stupidity of these unlawful tactics is that Crayola and other brand Side Walk chalk packages state it's water-soluble based and non-toxic. This means little kids can eat it and they do! How can this be considered harmful to the environment and vandalism? Why aren’t these packages also labeled that using them on sidewalks might lead to arrest? Maybe a lawsuit against such companies need to happen so police stop arresting innocent people. These illegal arrests clog the court system, are a waste of time and taxpayers money!!!

I am admitting publicly that I have used side walk chalk numerous times for decades at protests with cops present and have never been warned or arrested. The latest was at the 'Free Bradley Manning' protest in Hillcrest a few weeks ago. The act of sidewalk chalk drawing is an art form practiced for centuries starting with charcoal from the family hearth and is covered by Freedom of Speech and Freedom of Expression!!! Law enforcement must stop arresting, abusing, bullying and harassing street artists under our constitutional right of Freedom of Speech and Creative Expression.


RhettMicheletti July 4, 2013 @ 1:05 p.m.

If we cherish the right to free speech, then we have an obligation to remove anyone from a position of authority when they deny the public that right.

Sign and share the petition on Change.org that seeks to remove the officials who betrayed their civic obligation and the trust of the people by attempting to deny a man's right to free speech.



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