San Diego, Ca — The so-called chalk vandal has been found not guilty after a four-day trial.
Jeff Olson faced up to 13 years in jail and thousands of dollars in fines for expressing anti-bank views in the form of graffiti as inspired by the Occupy movement. Upset about the bailouts of large banks, he began writing slogans such as “No Thanks, Big Banks” and ”Shame on Bank of America” on the sidewalk outside of bank branches in San Diego.
A jury deliberated for about four hours before clearing Olson on 13 misdemeanor vandalism charges yesterday. As Fox News put it, “Calif. jury says if it’s chalk, he walks.”
“Wall Street banks nearly drove our economy into the ditch,” Olson, 40, told the local ABC News affiliate after the not-guilty verdict was rendered. “I realized that, there was basically a criminal racket operating on my block, and I didn’t find that acceptable … I never thought in a million years that using washable sidewalk chalk on a city sidewalk could be considered vandalism.”
San Diego Mayor Bob Filner insisted all along that the case was a waste of time and resources, but city attorney Jan Goldsmith responded that “we prosecute vandalism and theft cases regardless of who the perpetrator or victim might be. We don’t decide, for example, based upon whether we like or dislike banks. That would be wrong under the law.” Prosecutors had offered to reduce the charges if Olson would perform community service, but he refused.
The presiding judge had disallowed a First Amendment freedom of speech defense during the trial so the case centered only on the alleged vandalism. According to the LA Times, “courts have held that graffiti remains illegal even if it can be easily washed off.”
California’s penal code requires a element of maliciousness when it comes to vandalism. Olson’s attorney claimed that his client’s “purpose was not malicious. His purpose was to inform.”
Do you agree with the jury that “erased” the charges against the chalk vandal? Should the case have been brought in the first place?
[top image credit: Shutterstock]