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Sidewalk Chalk “Vandal” Acquitted By Jury

On Saturday I noted that a man who had written protests messages in sidewalk chalk outside a number of Bank of America branches faced up to a decade in prison for his actions. Thanks to a jury, though, that won’t be happening:

SAN DIEGO – A 40-year-old man was acquitted Monday of 13 misdemeanor vandalism charges that stemmed from protest messages written in chalk in front of three Bank of America branches in San Diego.

Jeffrey David Olson’s attorney argued during the trial — which garnered national attention — that his client was engaging in a legal protest and was not maliciously defacing of property.

Olson could have faced up to 13 years behind bars if convicted of all counts. Jurors began deliberating Friday.

Defense attorney Tom Tosdal argued that vandalism law required jurors to find something was “maliciously defaced.”

“His purpose was not malicious. His purpose was to inform,” Tosdal said of his client.

Olson did not deny that he scrawled anti-bank messages and artwork outside the banks last year. His messages included “No thanks, big banks” and “Shame on Bank of America.”

The prosecution of Olson brought condemnation of the City Attorney’s Office from Mayor Bob Filner, who called it a waste of time.

Tosdal said it was an “enormous waste of public resources.” He said bank officials demanded the prosecution because they didn’t like his client’s message.

And that, apparently, is what the jury ended up finding. All in all, a sensible vindication of the practice of trial by jury.

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About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May, 2010 and also writes at Below The Beltway. Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook

Comments

  1. al-Ameda says:

    What I want to know is why this was in the courts in the first place?

    The ‘chalking’ might have been annoying but really, all they had to do was have this guy hose the sidewalk chalk off the pavement/surface – it wasn’t spray painted graffiti for god’s sake.

    Highly-rated. Helpful or Unhelpful: Thumb up 50 Thumb down 1

  2. Kent G. Budge says:

    “All in all, a sensible vindication of the practice of trial by jury.”

    You don’t think a judge acting as fact finder could have reached the same verdict? It’s a pretty sensible verdict, after all.

    Highly-rated. Helpful or Unhelpful: Thumb up 29 Thumb down 1

  3. wr says:

    Right. Nothing at all disturbing at the massive prosecutorial overreach, or the legal bills the defendant will probably be paying for years. Nothing disturbing about the city attorney working as a de facto employee of Bank of America. It all came out in the wash, so no damage done.

    Highly-rated. Helpful or Unhelpful: Thumb up 72 Thumb down 0

  4. jim m says:

    Perhaps more disturbing than the prosecution itself is that the City Attorney felt obliged to purse the charges because a powerful bank demanded that he do so. So clearly the City Attorney is beholden to large political donors rather than carrying out the duties of his office as a representative of the people. Nice.

    Highly-rated. Helpful or Unhelpful: Thumb up 44 Thumb down 0

  5. Mark says:

    Yes, since he could march down to the county recorder’s office and find dozens of mortgage fraud cases to prosecute against that same B of A bank, if he really were interested in representing the people.

    Highly-rated. Helpful or Unhelpful: Thumb up 27 Thumb down 0

  6. Jeff Ellis says:

    Prosecutors have no regard for decency or common sense, they have become arrogant and despotic, in some cities they have armies of lawyers on staff, they’ll prosecute absolutely any one that comes on their radar to keep themselves employed. Another sign that the guvment has already become a terror-spreading, in-your-face tyrant. They wanted to send exactly that message – look what we can do to you if we feel like it.

    Highly-rated. Helpful or Unhelpful: Thumb up 21 Thumb down 2

  7. JKB says:

    @wr:

    This is nothing compared to the prosecutorial overreach and waste of resources in the Zimmerman trial. So far, no prosecution witness has supported any elements of the crime and most have completely undermined the prosecutions “narrative”, including the lead investigator who testified today.

    And we see in West Virginia the case of the 13-yr old alone in a room with 2 police officers, the police chief, two teachers and the principal being a threat to police officer by sitting down but not shutting up was thrown out.

    Seems there’s a whole lot of law, very little order and the criminals are running the prosecutions, or at least the incompetent or perhaps, venal.

    Highly-rated. Helpful or Unhelpful: Thumb up 27 Thumb down 5

  8. legion says:

    @al-Ameda: Because no prosecutor has ever been penalized – either by the city or the voters – for bringing charges against _too many_ people. For all the complaining about how this guy just committed an unprofessional and irresponsible waste of public time & money (to say nothing of destroying the public’s faith and trust in the system), he will continue to have that job as long as he wants it.

    Basically, the problem is people. They suck.

    Highly-rated. Helpful or Unhelpful: Thumb up 15 Thumb down 0

  9. Anderson says:

    “You don’t think a judge acting as fact finder could have reached the same verdict? It’s a pretty sensible verdict, after all.”

    Given his rulings … No.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 12 Thumb down 1

  10. Fred says:

    @al-Ameda:

    They argued that it fell under the heading of graffiti and therefore, graffiti is not necessarily protected by the 1st Amendment. It was also due to the head of bank security who kept pestering the District Attorney’s office.

    The judge had also previously ruled that Olson’s attorney could NOT use a 1st Amendment defense.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 10 Thumb down 0

  11. Fred says:

    @JKB: And what’s also fascinating is how CNN and others are STILL trying to portray Zimmerman as guilty. Ask a leftist and they’ll tell you he’s guilty.

    The brainwashing of America continues…

    Hot debate. What do you think? Thumb up 19 Thumb down 18

  12. Anderson says:

    Sorry you found the thread topic insufficiently redneck, Fred. If only the Zimmerman case were being discussed somewhere else on the internet, you wouldn’t have to threadjack here.

    Hot debate. What do you think? Thumb up 19 Thumb down 8

  13. Adam says:

    Malicious prosecution action against San Diego would appear appropriate. At the very least, grieve the prosecutor.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 6 Thumb down 0

  14. Anderson says:

    Adam: won’t work. Prosecutorial immunity. Now, the bank OTOH ….

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 7 Thumb down 0

  15. Jonathan says:

    @Kent G. Budge: No, the judge already prohibited the defense from making any reference to freedom of speech or the first amendment as part of their defense. There are idiot judges and idiot juries, but the fact that juries have more members make idiotic rulings/findings marginally less probable, just as convoying war materials across the Atlantic in multiple cargo ships made it less likely that the entire haul would be sunk.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 9 Thumb down 0

  16. CeeBeeBee says:

    @wr: A wise man once said that, in cases such as this, the process is the punishment. The fact that the defendant had to spend untold amount of money for lawyers and associated expenses, as well as the psychological stress of facing years in prison, are prices that no innocent person should have to pay.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 11 Thumb down 0

  17. al-Ameda says:

    @Fred:

    And what’s also fascinating is how CNN and others are STILL trying to portray Zimmerman as guilty. Ask a leftist and they’ll tell you he’s guilty.

    Well heck yeah. A guy carrying a gun stalks a kid, the kid turns the tables on the guy, and the guy then kills the kid. Why would any one think that the guy with the gun created the problem and caused the manslaughter? Why conservatives have gone soft on crime and believe that Zimmerman is innocent, is beyond me.

    Hot debate. What do you think? Thumb up 21 Thumb down 14

  18. Anderson says:

    To me, Zimmerman sounds more like a candidate for a manslaughter rap; but I don’t know if that’s available to the jury under FL law.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 6 Thumb down 1

  19. Rob in CT says:

    As to the OP: well, the bare minimum of basic sanity prevails, after much hassle. I guess it could have been worse, but come on. This whole thing was a farce.

    As for Martin/Zimmerman:

    By the time he was actually charged, my thinking was Zimmerman’s gonna beat it. Based on the information available to the public at that point, stripped of the older, more confused accounts, it’s entirely possible that Martin rounded on him and threw the first punch. As such, Zimmerman’s going to get off on self-defense. I think he acted like an ass and helped cause an unnecessary death, but that’s not the same as murder. So he’ll probably walk.

    I still believe the initial investigation was lacking and justified the outcry, and that Zimmerman is a pathetic creature – a self-appointed superhero in waiting who was just itching for a confrontation. He got one – and got his chance to blow away the “bad guy.” And for this, he’s being feted as some sort of hero of Conservatism.

    The whole incident sucks, all the way around. Zimmerman’s behavior, Martin’s apparent choice to confront him, the initial police investigation, the slew of false media reports in the early stages of the controversy, and the reactions of most people who opined on the subject, whether liberal or conservative. I include myself in that.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 1

  20. Abbey says:

    @al-Ameda: Because a) they love stand your ground laws b) they love the NRA and c) they don’t care for african americans.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 5

  21. @Kent G. Budge:

    Prior to this trial, the presiding Judge in this case had ruled that the Defendant could not avail himself of a First Amendment defense.So, this particular Judge didn’t inspire much confidence in me

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  22. @wr:

    Did you miss my post from Saturday?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  23. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @Rob in CT:

    The whole incident sucks, all the way around. Zimmerman’s behavior, Martin’s apparent choice to confront him, the initial police investigation, the slew of false media reports in the early stages of the controversy, and the reactions of most people who opined on the subject, whether liberal or conservative. I include myself in that.

    What I just don’t get is the narrative that Zimmerman had the right to ‘stand his ground’ but Martin did not. Does a person have the right to stand one’s ground ONLY if they have a gun? This makes absolutely zero sense to me. Zimmerman was stalking Martin. As such he was the aggressor. Martin was defending himself… Until he got the upper hand?

    I just don’t get it.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 7

  24. al-Ameda says:

    @jim m:

    Perhaps more disturbing than the prosecution itself is that the City Attorney felt obliged to purse the charges because a powerful bank demanded that he do so.

    Normally the city wouldn’t bother with going to the mat on this type of thing, but because it was BoA, the city attorney decided to NOT exercise the usual proper discretion (and avoid taking this to court) rather, he doubled down on wasting money, court resources, and took on bad publicity. Great … “Mission Accomplished.”

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  25. wr says:

    @JKB: “This is nothing compared to the prosecutorial overreach and waste of resources in the Zimmerman trial.”

    You’re exactly right, JKB. A dead black teenager is much less important than some chalk marks on a building and should be treated as such. Now if it was a white teenager killed by a black man, then we should all get upset, right?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 3

  26. wr says:

    @Doug Mataconis: “Did you miss my post from Saturday? ”

    I did not. But you, apparently, missed my response, so I will repost it here:

    @Doug Mataconis: “The Roberts Court has been the most aggressive in protecting First Amendment rights for everyone of any Court sine the Warren Era. ”

    The Roberts court has decided that it’s unconstitutional for a state to provide matching funds for a political candidate vastly outspent by billionaires because that unfairly diminishes the value of the billionaire’s money/speech.

    They protect the First Amendment rights of the super-rich. Oh, and the mega-rich. Those are the only rights that matter to Roberts.

    Oh, and it’s fairly disingenuous to “prove” that the Roberts court has been good on First Amendment issues by pulling up a couple of unanimous or 7-2 rulings. It’s the 5-4 rulings where the majority has its say.

    And odd how you completely neglected the most important “free speech” case this court has considered… Citizens United, which explicity declared that the only speech that deserves protection is money.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 1

  27. Barry says:

    @Kent G. Budge: “You don’t think a judge acting as fact finder could have reached the same verdict? It’s a pretty sensible verdict, after all. ”

    Considering how BoA has bribed its way through the criminal justice system, no, I don’t think so.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  28. Barry says:

    @Mark: “Yes, since he could march down to the county recorder’s office and find dozens of mortgage fraud cases to prosecute against that same B of A bank, if he really were interested in representing the people. ”

    Excellent point, and one that I thought of already. It’s pretty clear that this prosecutor should be put on trial, and given the maximum sentence, for taking bribes, conspiracy, fraud, etc.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  29. Barry says:

    @JKB: “This is nothing compared to the prosecutorial overreach and waste of resources in the Zimmerman trial. So far, no prosecution witness has supported any elements of the crime and most have completely undermined the prosecutions “narrative”, including the lead investigator who testified today. ”

    Aside from the whole murder thing……….

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 1

  30. Anderson says:

    @OzarkHillbilly: I thought that was a good question, so I looked at the statute:

    “A person who is not engaged in an unlawful activity and who is attacked in any other place where he or she has a right to be has no duty to retreat and has the right to stand his or her ground and meet force with force, including deadly force if he or she reasonably believes it is necessary to do so to prevent death or great bodily harm to himself or herself or another or to prevent the commission of a forcible felony.”

    So this would apply to Martin only if he were “attacked” first; being stalked by a crazy guy doesn’t cut it.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  31. Rob in CT says:

    Right, Anderson. If some creepy dude stalks me, I might turn around and demand to know what he’s up to. That’s all good. If I do this and then proceed to attack him, that’s assault & battery, even if I’m assualting and battering an asshole. Pretty basic stuff.

    I’m not positive that’s what happened, but that’s certainly the tale Zimmerman is telling.

    I saw a partial transcript of Zimmerman’s questioning by the cops that day and an officer asked him an excellent question. Martin apparently demanded to know who Zimmerman was/what he was up to. Which, given the context, was a perfectly good question. Zimmerman failed to answer him, and certainly didn’t say “I’m the neighborhood watchman. Do you live here?” If he had, perhaps this goes down differently. He did not. What happened next is crucial to the case.

    The cop pressed the point, and Zimmerman said he was scared. He also claimed he was chasing after Martin so he could give the police an address (which seems odd, if he claims he thought Martin didn’t live in the complex…). This is around the time of the more famous “these assholes always get away” and “f*cking punks” statements.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  32. rudderpedals says:

    @Anderson: Great point. “Attack” should include the situation where one’s threatened with imminent battery. And Zimmerman should exploit the sloppy drafting to argue that “attack” is the physical touching it implies elsewhere in the statutes where the term occurs, as in a “dog attack or bite” (bad dog law) and a terrorist or enemy attack.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  33. Anderson says:

    Rob: all good points. I certainly don’t want to come off as a Z defender.

    Have only lightly followed the testimony; I suspect the only witness who really matters, in the end, is Zimmerman himself. If the jury finds him credible, he walks. If he turns them off, well, time to start working on the appeal. I don’t see how he can avoid the stand.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  34. MatBastardson says:

    If the Zimmerman case news of the past few days is any indication, the outcome of his trial will be decided not on the basis of his guilt or innocence, but the fact that blacks will create nationwide riots if he is acquitted, to which the Rodney King aftermath will pale in comparison. Justice by extortion.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 1

  35. Anderson says:

    If the Zimmerman case news of the past few days my own racist ideology is any indication, the outcome of his trial will be decided not on the basis of his guilt or innocence, but the fact that blacks will create nationwide riots if he is acquitted, to which the Rodney King aftermath will pale in comparison. Justice by extortion.

    FIFY.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 2

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