BofA Has Man Prosecuted For Writing Anti-Bank Messages On Public Sidewalk And Gets Judge To Bar 1st Amendment Arguments 

Bank of America is pressuring the San Diego City Attorney to send chalk protester to prison for 13 years.
Bank of America is pressuring the San Diego City Attorney to send chalk protester to prison for 13 years.

Jeff Olson from San Diego, California will face jail time for writing anti-big bank messages in water-soluble chalk on public sidewalks outside BofA branches last year.

To make matters worse the presiding judge in the case, Howard M. Shore ruled to prohibit Olson’s attorney from “mentioning the First Amendment, free speech, free expression, public forum, expressive conduct, or political speech during the trial.”

Olson is being charged with 13 counts of vandalism which could force him to pay a $13,000 fine and put him behind bars for 13 years.

The San Diego Reader reports that Olson and his partner had been active in the campaign to encourage people to move their money from BofA and during one protest, Darell Freeman, vice president of Bank of America’s Global Corporate Security began accusing them of running a business with the opposition.  Witnesses even say Freeman even threatened to slander Olson at his credit union.  According to witness, David Batterson,

“The man identified himself as Darell Freeman, corporate security for the bank. He refused to give me his business card when I asked for it. He told [Olson] that he could, “with one phone call,” get [Olson’s] credit union account canceled at California Coast. He threatened to make the call if [he] kept up the demonstration,”

Olson later expanded his displeasure with Bank of America with chalk drawings on sidewalks outside various Bank of America branches with Bank of America security cameras apparently recording his actions.  He stopped his artistic protest last year after he received a call from San Diego’s Gang Unit.

The Reader reports Freeman, like Javert in Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables, pursued Olson and pressured city attorneys to bring charges against Olson until they announced that they would do so this past April.

The case went in front of Judge Howard M. Shore earlier this week and Shore ruled The First Amendment has no place in Superior Court Judge when it comes to vandalism with water-soluble chalk.  Shore granted Hazard’s motion to prohibit Olson’s attorney Tom Tosdal from mentioning the First Amendment, free speech, free expression, public forum, expressive conduct, or political speech during the trial.  He wants a trial to focus on whether or not Olson is guilty of vandalism not what his motivations behind the alleged vandalism were.

Yesterday the San Diego City Attorney’s Office issued the following statement to the Huffington Post:

1. This is a graffiti case where the defendant is alleged to have engaged in the conduct on 13 different occasions. The trial judge has already held that, under California law, it is still graffiti even if the material can be removed with water. Most graffiti can be removed. Also, the judge and a different pre-trial judge held that the First Amendment is not a defense to vandalism/graffiti. 2. 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. 3. The defense is whipping up hysteria about the prospect of 13 years in custody. This is not a 13 year custody case. It is a standard graffiti case compounded by the fact that the defendant is alleged to have done it on 13 separate occasions. Because there were 13 different occasions when the defendant allegedly engaged in the conduct, the law requires them to be set out separately in the complaint. This increases the maximum sentence, but it still is a graffiti case and nothing more. The courts routinely hear graffiti cases and handle them appropriately using judicial discretion. 4. It is not unusual for victims to contact police or prosecutors about a case. Our prosecutors are trained to focus only on their ethical standards in deciding whether to file a case. 5. 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 and such a practice by law enforcement would change our society in very damaging ways.

After reading this, I don’t exactly know what to say.  So I’m going to let Ron Burgandy do it for me:

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