Bank of America protester acquitted of vandalism
A San Diego, California man has been acquitted of vandalism charges after being threatened with 13 years in prison for scrawling anti-bank slogans on a sidewalk with chalk.
A jury deliberated for less than five hours on Monday before deciding to acquit 40-year-old Jeff Olson on the 13 counts of vandalism he was charged with after protesting Bank of America using children’s chalk, Reuters reported.
Under California guidelines, Olson could have been sentenced to 13 years in prison and asked to pay $13,000 in fines if convicted. When he spoke out against the absurdity of the possibility last week, Judge Howard Shore issued a gag-order to ensure Olson and others wouldn’t discuss their case further.
“Judge Shore has issued a gag order prohibiting all counsel and parties from commenting or expressing opinions on the case upon penalty of criminal contempt. All I am permitted to say is that I disagree,” Olson said over the weekend in an email to RT.
Olson previously told reporters, “My chalk drawings are
clearly free speech and protected by the First Amendment,”
and said after his victory on Monday that the dozen jurors
"The jury sent a strong message that freedom of speech is alive in San Diego," he told reporters outside of the courthouse.
"I'm really relieved," Olson added to U-T San Diego. "It's been an incredibly stressful situation. It feels really good to know that the people of San Diego as represented by the jury are on my side."
Olson’s supposed crimes consisted of using washable chalk to write messages such as “No Thanks, Big Banks" and "Shame on Bank of America" on the sidewalks outside of branches in the San Diego area throughout 2012 after the Occupy Wall Street movement first began gaining momentum. He told San Diego 6 News last week that he was being prosecuted in part because City Attorney Jan Goldsmith has received campaign contributions from at least two big name financial institutions and, "If I had drawn a little girl's hopscotch squares on the street, we wouldn't be here today.”
"His purpose was not malicious. His purpose was to inform," defense attorney Tom Tosdal told CNS News of Olson.