San Diego jury: Chalk not considered vandalism

    5:47 AM, Jul 2, 2013   |    comments
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    SAN DIEGO, CA (CNN/KSWB) -- Can writing messages with chalk on a sidewalk be considered vandalism? A jury in San Diego said "no" on Monday.

    The judge says, "Find the defendant, Jeffery David Olson not guilty of the crime of vandalism."

    These are just the words Jeff Olson was waiting to hear. And he heard it nine more times. The 40-year-old North Park resident was acquitted of all 13 misdemeanor vandalism charges against him. He says, "I'm really relieved, this has been an incredible situation."

    It was a situation that began last year when Olson wanted to get the message out on Wall Street's big banks, so he grabbed some chalk and went to the Bank of America down the street. Olson says, "Sometimes I would write no thanks big banks, with a buster bar."

    But, Bank of America was not amused and pressed charges. City attorneys charged Olson with 13 counts of vandalism, took away his driver's license, and fined him $6,000.

    Tom Tosdal defended Olson in court, a defense which at times was restricted. Tosdal says, "First, he ruled the First Amendment and the state constitution right of free speech were not relevant to this case."

    The judge also ruled arguments about how easily the chalk was removed were not allowed. After four hours of deliberating, jurors voted to acquit Olson of all charges.

    The city attorney issued a statement saying the jury's verdict is respected.

    Prosecutors never treated the case as anything more than graffiti. There is no first amendment right to deface property even if the writing is easily removed.

    For Jeff, the case was tough and trying at times, but well worth the fight. He says, "The jury sent a real strong message that the First Amendment is alive and well in San Diego."

    After his acquittal, Olson says he doesn't think he'll continue his chalk art. Instead, he said he's going to try to find another way to express himself.

    And by the way, he didn't have to pay his attorney, because he took the case pro bono.

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