A California man’s protest against banking excess could put him in jail for more than a decade, while apparently landing him in the middle of the ongoing feud between the mayor of San Diego and the city attorney.
KFMB-TV reported on Tuesday that Jeff Olson has been charged with 13 counts of vandalism by City Attorney Jan Goldsmith for writing statements including “No thanks big banks” and “Shame on Bank of America” on the sidewalk outside a Bank of America location between February and August 2012.
If convicted, Olson could spend up to 13 years in jail and be forced to pay the bank $13,000 in restitution.
“Jan Goldsmith has received campaign contributions from Bank Americorp and Merrill Lynch,” Olson told XETV-TV. “I think this is mostly about Goldsmith for Mayor 2016.”
Olson described the writing as being “always on city sidewalks, washable chalk, never crude messages, never vulgar, clearly topical. But Judge Howard Shore struck down his attorney’s argument that the written protest fell in line with his right to free speech.
“In light of the fact that it’s clear in the case law, vandalism is not a legitimate exercise of free speech rights,” Shore said on Tuesday. “It really is irrelevant what the message is, or content is.”
The San Diego Reader reported on Monday that Darell Freeman, who identified himself as “corporate security” for the bank in a previous encounter with Olson, contacted both Goldsmith and local police in January 2013 urging them to press charges against Olson. Three months later, Deputy City Attorney Paige Hazard confirmed their intention to prosecute Olson, who had by then stopped protesting and worked on Filner’s mayoral campaign.
“Circumventing the rules, without permission, under the color of night, and now waiving a banner of the First Amendment, does not negate the fact that defacement occurred, a private business suffered real and substantial monetary damages, and Defendant is responsible,” Hazard wrote in a court document.
Filner, who has frequently clashed with Goldsmith since being elected in November 2012, issued a memo to local City Council President Todd Gloria on June 20 to discuss the case against Olson in a future closed session meeting.
“This young man is being persecuted for thirteen counts of vandalism stemming from an expression of political protest that involved washable children’s chalk on a city sidewalk,” Filner wrote in the memo. “It is alleged that he has no previous criminal record. If these assertions are correct, I believe this is a misuse and waste of taxpayer money. It could also be characterized as an abuse of power that infringes on First Amendment particularly when it is arbitrarily applied to some, but not all, similar speech.”
Goldsmith levied his own accusations of abuse at Filner on June 18 after Filner had Executive Assistant City Attorney Andrew Jones escorted out of a closed session for allegedly “leaking” information.
Watch KFMB’s story on the case against Olson, aired Tuesday, below.